Aug 20, 2008

"Nonpartisan" or Not?

I guess I'll have to focus on the Olympics and the Elections till November. Kind of annoying. I'll try to broaden that, but there's just so much to talk about.

Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, outlines the rules of formation and restrictions on activities by organizations to whom the Federal government allows both tax exemption and tax deductions for their individual donors. There are a lot of restrictions, far more than for other tax exempt organizations. One of the big restrictions is on political activity -- i.e. anything that looks partisan or even gets overly entangled with the political arena. Even policy advocacy, for specific pieces of legislation, is strictly regulated for (c)(3) organizations. This is pretty well understood, but especially in big election years, sometimes, people get a bit sloppy.

There are Executive Directors of community-based organizations who get a little too close to one candidate or another, and don't make it very clear that they are there solely on an individual capacity (which is allowed). A number of APA organization leaders are going to both the upcoming DNC and RNC national conventions. It seems to me that people really wanted to see Obama speak, and are willing to make the trek out to the RNC, where they'll nurse a few drinks, shake a few hands, and feel like they've done what they need to cover their bases.

I don't really accept that. I also think it's not cool for groups to do briefings to just 2 presidential campaigns, just because they are the ones that the media are so focused on. There are at least 5 active presidential campaigns going on, and at least 4 of them are with parties (I can't remember if Nader is with an independent "party" or just on his own). I really wonder if someone wanted to wreak havoc with some of these groups, whether they could raise a fuss with the I.R.S. Maybe the argument could be that if they show preference to 2 parties over all the others, it's still partisan. It's not good enough to just speak with Republicrats.

Again, I'm not hating of the nonprofits, but if they only recognize candidates from the monied parties, they are perpetuating the 2-party bullshit that keeps us in this mess.


Anonymous said...

Great post, man.

Have you read "The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex"? It is awesome and discusses some of these dynamics. A lot of how nonprofits operate now is really only maintaining the current power structure.

I think a possibly better model is to form hybrid 501(c)3/501(c)4 organizations, as (c)4s can be explicitly political but can't get tax exempt donations, whereas the (c)3s do get tax breaks but cannot be explicitly political.


Anonymous said...

Also, in regards to the two-party shit, I think 501(c)4s could possibly become their own political parties, which is an interesting thought in terms of true movement building and challenging the two-party duopoly.


Rage said...

Hey brother thanks for the comments. I think more groups are going the (c)(4) route, but (c)(4)s also have mad limitations on their explicitly political activities - they can't endorse candidates (or at least not very often) and there are a range of other things they can't do because it would amount to Federal taxpayer money supporting the parties (I don't disagree here).

But this is where some of the PACs and other political organizations come in... I think there are more community-based PACs forming, actually, that are working on both fundraising and calling out candidates on issues.

Equality Virginia is a good example of what can be done: they have a (c)(3) for education, a (c)(4) for policy advocacy, and a state PAC to support and oppose specific local and state candidates.

People are starting to get a little smarter about how to use some of these organizations - there are limitations (including who can give money - i.e. you have to be a citizen or a permanent resident), but we have to fight smarter.

I just get annoyed with some of the people running these ships who get so tied up with one party.

Rage said...

Yeah - and I haven't read "The Rev. Will Not Be Funded" but I've heard talks by the authors. It's like that Blue Scholars line: "501(c)(3) community plantations/non-profit sector propped up to kill the movement."

Damn. That's a song I'll have to keep to myself in my new job, I guess. Headphone playlists already starting in my head...

Anonymous said...

Damn, what Blue Scholars song is that? I don't know how those guys could be any more awesome.


Anonymous said...

Also, aren't PACs technically c4s by law?

Rage said...


First, that's from "Life and Debt" off the first LP. I was like... whaaaa... did he just say what I think he said?! Yeah, they are the tops.

Second, there is definitely a difference between (c)(4) organizations and PACs. (c)(4)s are governed by IRS rules. PACs are governed by Federal Election Commission rules - they are generally about how the money is collected and passed to candidates/campaigns.

A 501(c)(4) (social welfare or legislative advocacy organization) can have an affiliated PAC, but there are a lot of rules that guide that too (if we're in the federal arena, the PAC has to disclose that the (c)(4) is connected to it, and the PAC can only ask for money from (c)(4) members). Also - a (c)(4) has to be incorporated to get the tax exempt status.

It's a lot more complicated if you're looking at state stuff, and even PACs get tax exemption for political donations (under I.R.C. section 527 (but "527 groups" are a whole other thing).

Yeah. Anyway - (c)(4)s can be connected to PACs, but they aren't the same thing. I'll link up if I can find something simple on this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Cool, thanks man.

Hey, if you're interested, there's this guy Gene Takagi who is a nonprofit attorney out in Cali and runs a great blog called He says we tend to focus so much on what nonprofits can't do, so the blog is more about what they can do.



Rage said...

KC - that site, and some of the ones I found through it, were *awesome*. Thanks for the tips!!