March 16, 2016
The U. S. Tax Code allows donor tax deductions to religious organizations, but the deduction comes with conditions that require the ministries to limit political activities. The best known condition is the rule against involvement in political campaigns.
The IRS prohibits any voter education and registration effort that specifically favors one candidate or party.
As individuals, church leaders can express their political opinions; however, the tax code prohibits them from making political comments in publications and at functions that their ministry sponsors.
When a ministry invites a candidate to speak, the IRS determines if the event is allowed within the rules of the tax code by asking:
When it invites several candidates for the same office to speak at a public event, the IRS asks other questions:
Ministries may invite political candidates to speak in certain situations: i.e., when those who hold a public office are experts in a non-political field or have led notable military, legal, or public service careers. A candidate also may personally choose to attend a ministry event open to the public. If the ministry introduces the candidate or asks the candidate to speak, the IRS determines if the activity fits the rules by asking questions similar to those mentioned previously.
IRS regulations permit religious organizations to take positions on public policy issues that divide candidates. However, they must avoid taking a position that favors or opposes a candidate or party. A church or ministry can violate the regulations simply by showing a picture of the candidate, referring to a political party, or using facts unique to a candidate's platform or biography.
An organization may not sell or rent mailing lists, lease office space, or accept paid political advertising in a way that the tax code prohibits.
When a ministry posts something on a website that favors or opposes a candidate, the IRS considers it the same as other political statements a religious organization makes. When a church or ministry allows a link to another website, the IRS may hold it responsible for political statements others make on the linked site.
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