Politics, Disclosure, and State Law Solutions for 501(C)(4) Organizations
43 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 21, 2016
Non-charitable nonprofit organizations are important political players, and they operate with little regulation and behind a veil of anonymity. The customary regulators of these organizations − the IRS and the FEC − are paralyzed by scandal and dysfunction, and have done nothing to address the problem of dark money in politics spawned by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. This article considers whether state nonprofit law can fill the gap left by federal tax and election regulators. It describes the efforts taken by California and New York to limit the influence of out-of-state anonymous money in state elections, and considers the policies that states might pursue in regulating politicking by nonprofits under their jurisdiction.
This article argues that state nonprofit law regulation could be desirable if states are concerned with either (1) shielding charitable organizations from the taint of political nonprofits, or (2) protecting donors to social welfare organizations from unwittingly underwriting political activity. However, if states are primarily interested in equalizing political power, silencing out-of-state voices, or protecting voters from fraud, then state nonprofit law is a poor regulatory fit. While most demands for dark-money regulation focus on disclosing the identity of nonprofit donors, this article explains that the appropriate regulation depends on the policy that drives it. While it argues that states have legitimate nonprofit-law concerns and could experiment to pave the way for federal regulation, it ultimately concludes that state nonprofit law regulation is unlikely to have the scope or effectiveness necessary to address the problem created by Citizens United.
Keywords: charities, 501(c)(4), Citizens United, dark money, nonprofit
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