The Political Speech of Charities in the Face of Citizens United: A Defense of Prohibition
72 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2010 Last revised: 15 Sep 2012
Date Written: February 22, 2012
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission makes a Supreme Court challenge to the tax law rule that prohibits charities from involvement in political activities more likely, and a reexamination of the political speech of charities necessary. Part I of the Article surveys the history of the political activities prohibition in order to emphasize that it was not a reactionary policy but quite considered, and that there are strong State interests supporting it, including protection of the definition of charity from further dilution. Part II of the Article analyzes Citizens United in detail and argues that if the Supreme Court considers a challenge to the political activities prohibition, Citizens United is distinguishable: the purpose of the political activities prohibition is not to suppress speech but to define charity; the legal setting is tax and not campaign finance; unlike the campaign finance rule, violation of the political activities prohibition is not criminal; and the political activities prohibition is by nature a rule associated with a tax status rather than a ban on corporate speech. Accordingly, the political activities prohibition, unlike the campaign finance rule, is not a burden on speech and therefore is constitutional. Part III of the Article discusses cautionary notes to the analysis of Part II, and explains that even if there is a constitutional defect to the political activities prohibition, the political activities limitation on the charitable deduction nonetheless would survive. Regardless of the constitutionality of the political activities prohibition, Part IV examines a number of possibilities for a charitable tax status in which political activity is allowed, and argues that the current rule is the best option. The Article concludes that the prohibition represents the evolution of a century of wrestling with the subject of political activity and charity, and the wisdom that the two are not compatible. Such wisdom should not be contravened.
Keywords: citizens united, charity, speech, political activities, constitutional, political activities prohibition, charitable deduction, independent expenditure, alternative channel, speech PAC option, TWR
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