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Not-for-profit aging services providers generally are aware that their tax-exempt status comes with restrictions on their organizations’ political activities. Following core principles will keep you in compliance with the tax laws and out of trouble with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
People who work for or live in tax-exempt organizations do not lose all their rights of citizenship, but any campaign activity you personally may want to undertake has to be done completely apart from your organization. For example, you speak or write on behalf of a candidate, you must do it under your own name and on your own time and expense, not representing your organization, involving your staff, or using your organization’s computer system, telephones, donor lists or other assets.
Since your staff’s activities within the facility and during working hours are attributable to your organization, they need to be familiar and comply with these restrictions as well. Similarly, your organization’s website, newsletter and other communications media must be free of any items endorsing or opposing a candidate.
Tax-exempt organizations may help people register to vote, get to a polling place and educate themselves on those who are running for office. Especially because many of the people we serve may have mobility or other issues that prevent them from getting out on their own to vote or hear from the candidates, senior housing and long-term services and supports providers frequently assist their residents in these ways. However, all of these activities must be completely nonpartisan, not favoring any one candidate over others.
For example, non-profit organizations may hold candidate forums for their residents/clients to hear from those who are running for office if:
Not every candidate has to attend in order for the function to proceed, but it must be explained at the function that all candidates were invited and any absences must be noted in a neutral manner. Invitations to the candidates should be written and copies kept to offer as proof should any questions arise as to who was invited.
Also, organizations may provide transportation to polling places as long as the service is provided on an equal basis to all residents and no distinction is made according to which candidate a resident may support. If an organization distributes materials such as voter guides to residents, the material must be unbiased and non-partisan, even if it has been prepared by outside groups.
For example, we encourage LeadingAge members to invite legislators to visit their communities in order to meet the residents and staff and discuss issues of importance with them. Every 2 years, however, all House members except those who are retiring and 1/3rd of the senators are running for reelection.
If your member of Congress comes in to speak to a group of your residents, you and the legislator must avoid mentioning his/her campaign for reelection. Otherwise, the event becomes campaign-related, and the legislator’s opponent(s) will have to be invited to speak to residents and clients as well.
This concept of nonpartisanship is especially important considering the physical and mental frailty of many of the people we serve. You and your staff must avoid even the appearance of attempting to influence residents to support or oppose any candidate.
By following these principles of non-intervention in campaigns and nonpartisanship, you will avoid jeopardizing your tax-exempt status. Additional information and examples of activities that are and are not permissible are available in the IRS’ helpful fact sheet.