A Reminder for Colleges and Universities During the Election Year - Part 2

Higher Education|Not-for-Profit|Tax

By Elena Faurie

Last week I covered a few activites that were permitted during an election year by colleges and universities.  Along with permitted activites, are various prohibited activities, which are outlined below.

All Section 501(c)(3) organizations should review their controls and procedures for compliance with the prohibition on campaign intervention under IRC Section 501(c)(3).  The Internal Revenue Service has strict rules on the use of an institutions` facilities and resources for political purposes.

Presented below are several prohibited activities that colleges and universities should be aware of in order to avoid jeopardizing the organization's tax-exempt status.  Prohibited activites include:

  • Conducting “voter education” activities, such as those involving questionnaires, if confined to a narrow range of issues or skewed in favor of certain candidates or a political party
  • Publishing ratings of the candidates, particularly in situations where the ratings could be viewed as reflecting the views of the institution
  • Endorsing, expressly or impliedly, a candidate for public office
  • Reimbursing college or university officials for campaign contributions
  • Providing  mailing lists, use of office space, telephones, photocopying, institutional facilities or support to a candidate, campaign, political party, political action committee (PAC) or the like free of charge
  • Public statements, oral or written, by institutional officials (such as the president and deans) in support of a candidate, political party, PAC or the like, where there is risk that the statements would be perceived as support or endorsement by the institution

A college or a university should always consult with a tax professional prior to taking any political actions during an election year. 

“Political Campaign-Related Activies of and at Colleges and Universities.” American Council on Education.  IRS.  September 2011.  Web.  6 Oct. 2014.

This advice is not intended or written to be used for, and it cannot be used for, the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties that may be imposed, or for promoting, marketing or recommending to another person, any tax-related matter.

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