Is the Ban on Participation in Political Campaigns by Charities Essential to Their Vitality and Democracy? A Reply to Professor Tobin
72 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2007
Religious and other charitable organizations are described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code only if they do not participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office. A charity that engages in such political campaign activity forfeits its federal income tax exemption and its ability to receive donations that are deductible by donors in computing their federal taxable income. The two-fold penalty effectively prohibits many charities from supporting or opposing political candidates. In a recent article, Professor Donald Tobin argues in favor of this effective ban by asserting that removing it would threaten the American democratic system and the vitality of charitable organizations. This Paper responds to Professor Tobin's thesis. This Article explains why his arguments do not establish that the ban on political campaign participation by charitable organizations is essential (1) to protect the vitality of the charitable sector in general, and churches in particular, or (2) to maintain a properly functioning democracy in the United States. However, this Article also explains why unfettered intervention in political campaigns by charities would pose some problems. This Article concludes that some electioneering by charities is proper, and that alternatives to the ban would better address the most compelling concerns raised by Professor Tobin.
Keywords: political campaigns, political activities, charitable organizations, electioneering, churches, electoral politics, tax-exempt, tax exemption, section 501(c)(3), charitable contribution, election
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