General Guide To Church Politics

Political and Lobbying Activities (Adapted from IRS Publication 1828, Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations - September 2003)


In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

Political Campaign Activity

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax.

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity.

In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not constitute prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner. On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that:
(a) would favor one candidate over another;

(b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or

(c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

Voter’s Guides

Organizations undertake voter education activities by distributing voter guides. Voter guides, generally, are distributed during an election campaign and provide information on how all candidates stand on various issues. These guides may be distributed with the purpose of educating voters; however, they may not be used to attempt to favor or oppose candidates for public elected office.


An organization may invite political candidates to speak in a non-candidate capacity. For instance, a political candidate may be a public figure because he or she:

(a) currently holds, or formerly held, public office;

(b) is considered an expert in a non-political field; or

(c) is a celebrity or has led a distinguished military, legal, or public service career.

When a candidate is invited to speak at an event in a non-candidate capacity, it is not necessary for the organization to provide equal access to all political candidates.

However, the organization must ensure that:
  • The individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity,
  • Neither the individual nor any representative of the organization makes
any mention of his or her candidacy or the election, and
  • No campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate's attendance.

In addition, the organization should clearly indicate the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and should not mention the individual's political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate's attendance at the event.

-- Raymond Lutz - 06 Oct 2006
Topic revision: r1 - 06 Oct 2006, RaymondLutz
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