February 10, 2022
What We Can and Can’t Do In Elections
The Texas Alliance for Retired Americans is a Social Welfare Corporation under the tax code 501(c)4. The following came directly from Jayne Clancy, the attorney who helped us incorporate:
Election Year Activities for 501(c)(4) Social Welfare Organizations
501(c)(4) organizations have fewer tax law restrictions than 501(c)(3) organizations with regard to political activity. Provided supporting or opposing candidates is not their primary activity, 501(c)(4)s can participate in political (or campaign intervention) activities1 under federal tax law2. However, 501(c)(4)s must also be aware of their obligations under federal and state election law.
National ARA has advised us that we may not spend money to promote candidates to the public. We can spend money to promote our endorsed candidates to our own members.
National ARA does all federal endorsements. TARA can follow our by-laws to endorse state and/or local candidates.
As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, all corporations, including 501(c)(4) corporations, may pay for independent expenditures that encourage the public to support or oppose federal and state candidates. An independent expenditure is any communication that is not coordinated or made with the cooperation, consultation, or at the request of a candidate or political party. Federal election law prohibits corporate entities, including 501(c)(4)s, from making cash or in-kind contributions–including coordinated communications3– to any federal candidates. Some states, however, permit corporations to make contributions to candidates and to coordinate activities.
Examples of “independent “ (meaning no coordination) election-related activities in which all 501(c)(4)s may engage include:
- Conducting all of the nonpartisan voter education activities in which 501(c)(3)s can engage;
- Supporting or opposing ballot measures;
- Endorsing federal and state candidates;
- Distributing communications to the general public — including through GOTV activities,
- Voter registration drives, billboards, broadcast ads — or to the organization’s membership in support or opposition to federal or state candidates. The organization can even encourage voters to vote for or against a specific federal or state candidate;
- Asking federal and state candidates to pledge to support the organization’s issues if elected
- Producing candidate voter guides or comparisons of where state and federal candidates stand on the issues
On the upside, we can do a lot more than a 501c3 or a 501c5 (labor union)!