The Chicago-area Northwest Herald recently ran an article highlighting the problems that 501(c)(3) organizations face if they become involved in political advocacy. The subject of the article, a charitable organization that delivers services to young adults with substance abuse problems, has come under scrutiny due to allegations of illegal politicking. According to the article, the public charity actively promoted political candidates on its Facebook page.
The article cites Ryan Oberly, one of the partners at Wagenmaker & Oberly, to explain the rule: “There is an absolute prohibition on intervening in political campaigns, such as activities for or against a particular candidate. It goes way beyond funding a candidate.” Indeed, any activity intended to influence a political campaign is strictly off-limits for 501c3 organizations. Because violations of this prohibition may result in significant penalties, not only for the organization but also for officers and directors, nonprofit leaders need to be aware of the limitations imposed on their exempt organizations.