Nonprofit Institutions Advisory: Direct Challenge to Prohibition against Intervention in Political Campaigns


Several weeks before the 2008 Presidential election, 33 pastors from across the United States participated in the “Pulpit Initiative” sponsored by Alliance Defense Fund, Inc. (ADF), a tax-exempt civil-liberties advocacy organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The pastors, on behalf of their churches, intentionally violated the federal prohibition imposed on religious organizations—as well as charitable, educational, scientific and certain other organizations that are exempt from federal income tax by virtue of Section 501(c)(3) of the Federal Income Tax Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”) from “intervening” in political campaigns on behalf of a candidate for public office, by endorsing political candidates from their pulpits during their sermons.

The provision forbidding political campaign activity by Section 501(c)(3) organizations was enacted as part of the Revenue Act of 1954. Congress adopted the prohibition principally due to concern that funds from charitable organizations could be used to finance political opponents. The ultimate consequence of violating the prohibition or otherwise intervening in a political campaign on behalf of a particular candidate for public office is revocation of tax-exempt status. This prohibition was revised in 1987 to clarify that activities in opposition to a particular candidate are also covered by the prohibition.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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