Fall 2003

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Nonprofits Are Urged To Proceed With Caution During Campaign Season

Fall 2003 issue of Trustee

Editorial Note - The information discussed in the following article warrants inclusion in this issue of TRUSTEE. Although it may appear to be a bit early, the reality is that the campaign season looks and sounds to be in full swing. This article was prepared by The Council of Community Services of NYS, Inc. It first appeared in CCSNYS's newsletter Capital Eyes.  For information about CCSNY, contact Executive Director Doug Sauer - 1-800-515-5012.

With local, regional and national election campaigns starting to heat up, it is important for nonprofit organizations to be aware of what activities they legally can and cannot participate in during election season. The Council of Community Services of New York State (CCSNYS) strongly advises that nonprofits steer clear of any activity that may be construed as electioneering since it could result in a loss of tax-exempt status. However, if your organization still feels the need to become involved in the election cycle, you need to be aware of the following regulations. Nonprofits may not support or stand against a candidate, but they may carefully and thoroughly engage in candidate education.

Nonprofits can inform the candidates of their position, and candidates can then distribute the statement on their own, if they so choose. But, nonprofit organizations may not distribute statements made by candidates until after elections. Nonprofits may distribute questionnaires, so long as they are distributed to every candidate, contain questions framed without a bias, and cover a broad range of concerns. Voting records can only be distributed if it is something that your organization has done regularly throughout the year.

Nonprofit organizations may invite candidates to a public forum, but only if: all candidates are invited, you promote all candidates evenhandedly, all candidates have equal opportunity to answer questions, and you never state your views or make comments about a candidate's view. The nonprofit may then publish this information, but only in a regularly published newsletter that is only distributed to members. Care must be taken to ensure that each candidate is represented evenly, and it is wise to keep written records and documentation to prove that all candidates were invited to the public forum and given equal opportunities.

Be sure to exercise caution if invited to an individual candidate's function and or fundraiser. Even if friends of the candidate or an outside source donate tickets, your presence at such a function implies support of that candidate. Although it is not illegal for individual staff members to attend such functions on their own time and at their own expense, such behavior is questionable, and may be seen as unethical.

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