Valerie Protopapas correctly says the IRS does not preclude 501(c)(3) organizations from taking a stand on issues. She says the Internal Revenue Code only prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing candidates for public office, but no more.
The Internal Revenue Code also prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from devoting a "substantial" portion of their activities toward influencing legislation. "Substantial" is not defined, but in language that ought to win a prize for bureaucratic obfuscation, IRS regulations have said an organization’s activities are "substantial" if they are "more than insubstantial." (Don’t ask them what "more than insubstantial" means; they’ll probably say "less than substantial." Tax lawyers general agree that if an organization devotes less than 5% of its time or budget to
influencing legislation, it’s tax exempt status is pretty safe.
I should add that the IRS prohibits 501(c)(3) ORGANIZATIONS from influencing elections or devoting a substantial portion of activities to influencing legislation. It does not prohibit individuals from doing so. If Forrest Jackson Lee wants to endorse Mike Huckabee for President, he is free to do so. He could even say, "I, Forrest J. Lee,
Commander of the ______ Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, endorse Mitt Romney for President." But he cannot say, "The Sons of Confederate Veterans endorse Ron Paul for President" or use similar language that indicates that the SCV AS AN ORGANIZATION is taking this position.
As a constitutional attorney, I personally believe these IRS restrictions are an unconstitutional violation of free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. I support efforts to repeal these restrictions. But so far the courts do not agree with me. They view tax-exempt status as a privilege that can be granted or denied with such condition as the government sees fit. I believe tax-exempt status is a constitutional right because the State has no jurisdictional authority to tax the Church, just as Caesar has no jurisdictional authority to tax God.
This certainly does not answer all of the questions in this area, but I hope it helps.
John A. Eidsmoe, Colonel, Alabama State Defense Force
Pike Road, AL