Nonpartisan Voter Guides for Churches and Nonprofit Organizations

Churches and 501(c)(3) organizations may engage in lobbying activities with certain limitations.

A 501(c)(4) organization may engage in lobbying activities without any limitations. However,

churches, 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations are prohibited from endorsing or opposing

candidates for political office. Nevertheless, churches, 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations

may educate the public with respect to the election process and may disseminate neutral

information regarding positions taken by the candidates. A “candidate” is a person “who offers

himself . . . as a contestant for an elective public office, whether such office be national, state, or

local.” Treas.Reg.1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3)(iii).

The IRS has provided the following illustrations regarding voter guides:

SITUATION 1

Organization A has been recognized as exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Code by the

Internal Revenue Service. As one of its activities, the organization annually prepares and makes

generally available to the public a compilation of voting records of all members of Congress on

major legislative issues involving a wide range of subjects. The publication contains no editorial

opinion, and its contents and structure do not imply approval or disapproval of any members or

their voting records.

The “voter education” activity of Organization A is not prohibited political activity within the

meaning of section 501(c)(3) of the Code.

SITUATION 2

Organization B has been recognized as exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Code by the

Internal Revenue Service. As one of its activities in election years, it sends a questionnaire to all

candidates for governor in State M. The questionnaire solicits a brief statement of each

candidate’s position on a wide variety of issues. All responses are published in a voter guide that

it makes generally available to the public. The issues covered are selected by the organization

solely on the basis of their importance and interest to the electorate as a whole. Neither the

questionnaire nor the voter guide, in content or structure, evidences a bias or preference with

respect to the view of any candidate or group of candidates.

The “voter education” activity of Organization B is not prohibited political activity within the

meaning of section 501(c)(3) of the Code.

SITUATION 3

Organization C has been recognized as exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Code by the

Internal Revenue Service. Organization C undertakes a “voter education” activity patterned after

that of Organization B in Situation 2. It sends a questionnaire to candidates for major public

offices and uses the responses to prepare a voter guide which is distributed during an election

campaign. Some questions evidence a bias on certain issues. By using a questionnaire

structured in this way, Organization C is participating in a political campaign in contravention of

the provisions of section 501(c)(3) and is disqualified as exempt under that section.

SITUATION 4

Organization D has been recognized as exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Code. It is

primarily concerned with land conservation matters.

The organization publishes a voter guide for its members and others concerned with land

conservation issues. The guide is intended as a compilation of incumbents’ voting on selected

land conservation issues of importance to the organization and is factual in nature. It contains no

express statements in support of or in opposition to any candidate. The guide is widely

distributed among the electorate during an election campaign.

While the guide may provide the voting public with useful information, its emphasis on one area

of concern indicates that its purpose is not nonpartisan voter education.

By concentrating on a narrow range of issues in the voter guide and widely distributing it among

the electorate during an election campaign, Organization D is participating in a political

campaign in contravention of the provisions of section 501(c)(3) and is disqualified as exempt

under that section. Revenue Ruling 78-248.

The IRS has indicated there are several types of activities which are considered inappropriate for

501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) organizations: (1) the endorsement of candidates, (2) making donations

to a candidate’s campaign, and (3) engaging in fund raising on behalf of a candidate. However,

if the “voter education” activity is neutral in content and format, the nonprofit’s tax-exempt

status will not be jeopardized.

Churches and other nonprofit organizations can clearly be involved in the political process. It

would literally be impossible for such organizations not to be involved in the political process

because the viewpoints and issues advocated by churches and nonprofit organizations naturally

have political consequences. To avoid the political process is to limit the effectiveness of

churches and nonprofit organizations. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that

“churches frequently take strong positions on public issues including...vigorous advocacy of legal

or constitutional positions. Of course, churches as much as secular bodies and private citizens

have that right.” Walz v. Tax Commission, 397 U.S. 664, 670 (1970).