Natalie Ossenfort

The President, Elections, and Tax Rules…Oh My!

On January 20th, the same day he took the oath of office, President Donald Trump filed paperwork with the FEC paving the way for a possible re-election run in 2020.  Does this mean 501(c)(3)s cannot criticize his actions and protest since he is officially a “candidate”? NO.

As 501(c)(3)s, we can continue to speak out and hold government officials accountable for their actions even when they are also candidates for public office.  This means that if the President, or any other elected official, takes an official action as part of his or her official duties, we are allowed to respond so long as our comments don’t rise to the level of campaign intervention.  And even if he were not officially a candidate, a c3 still could not express a desire to see an elected official defeated—or re-elected—in the next election.

So how can your organization safely speak out against a policy that negatively impacts the communities you serve?  And how can you support the legislative or executive acts that benefit your constituents?  Our factsheet on “Praising and Criticizing Incumbents” examines the issues faced by 501(c)(3)s when commenting on actions taken by “candidates” who are also acting government officials.  It provides a number of tips that, if followed, can minimize any potential risk to your organization so that you can BOLDLY speak out about the issues you work day-in and day-out to address.

For example:

  • Focus on official actions only, not on an individual lawmaker’s personal characteristics, fitness, or qualifications for office;
  • Avoid mentioning an individual’s candidacy, their potential re-election, or how their actions will affect voters (instead, describe how their actions will affect Americans);
  • Time your communications to coincide with policy decisions instead of resurrecting past executive or legislative actions in an attempt to call into question or bolster a candidate’s suitability for office; and
  • Comment only on the issues that your organization has a track-record of working on, rather than commenting on issues that, while important, are not germane to your nonprofit’s mission.

For more detailed information on this issue, click here.  You may also reach out to us with your advocacy related questions by submitting a request for technical assistance or calling our advocacy hotline (866-675-6229).