Category: Uncategorized

Federal Elections 101

On this episode, we’ll discuss the basics of federal election law, including what it regulates, and which tax-exempt organizations need to be aware of it. We’ll also review recent FEC opinions that allow for interesting pre- and post-election activities for non-501(c)(3) organizations involving federal candidates.

Attorneys for this episode

  • Quyen Tu
  • Susan Finkle-Sourlis
  • Tim Mooney


1. Federal Election Law Basics:

·          • Overview of federal campaign finance regulations

·          • Role of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC)

·          • Differences between federal and state campaign finance laws

2. Key Regulations:

·          • Source prohibitions and contribution limits

·          • Types of source prohibitions (e.g., corporations, foreign nationals)

·          • Contribution limits and exceptions for PACs and Super PACs

3. In-Kind Contributions and Coordinated Activities:

·          • Definition and examples of in-kind contributions

·          • Coordination with candidates and the implications

4. Recent FEC Opinions and Rulings:

·          • Door-to-door canvassing coordination

·          • Internet exception for unpaid communications

5. Ballot Initiatives and Federal Candidates:

·          • Federal candidates’ involvement in state and local ballot measures

·          • Recent advisory opinions from the FEC

6. Post-Election Activities:

·          • Ballot curing coordination with federal candidates

·          • Compliance requirements and legal considerations


Rules of the Game

The Connection (newly updated)

• Blog post on coordinating canvassing (AFJ Action)

Nonpartisan Voter Engagement with Nonprofit Vote’s Brian Miller

On this edition we chat with Nonprofit Vote Executive Director Brian Miller about the organization’s efforts to expand nonpartisan voter engagement, the fascinating findings in its latest Nonprofit Power Report, and the challenges and strategies for a successful nonpartisan campaign.

On this episode

Tim Mooney

Quyen Tu

Special Guest – Brian Miller, Executive Director, Nonprofit Vote


·       Introduction

·       About Nonprofit Vote

·       National organization providing resources and training to help nonprofits engage communities in voting and elections.

·       Resources include guides on staying nonpartisan, running voter registration drives, and understanding relevant regulations.

·       Why Nonprofit Voter Engagement Matters

·       Fosters an inclusive democracy by narrowing gaps in voter participation along lines of race, income, and age.

·       Nonprofits serve as secondary actors with motivations to ensure their communities have a voice in democracy, unlike political campaigns that focus on likely voters.

·       The Nonprofit Power Report

·       Updated version analyzed voter data from nonprofits in eight states during the last midterm election.

·       Key Findings:

·       Nonprofit-engaged voters were more likely to be low income, younger, and voters of color.

·       Nonprofit engagement boosted voter turnout by 10 percentage points on average.

·       Higher turnout rates were observed for voters of color (+12%), young voters (+14%), and low-income voters (+15%).


·       Challenges and Solutions in Voter Engagement

·       Common barriers include perceptions of partisanship and lack of resources.

·       Importance of understanding legal boundaries to overcome partisanship concerns.

·       Philanthropy for Voter Engagement Initiative partners with foundations to provide resources and support for voter engagement.

·       Strategies for Effective Voter Engagement

·       Reverse door-knocking for organizations with high foot traffic (e.g., food pantries, community health centers).

·       Incorporating voter engagement into community outreach for issue-focused groups (e.g., environmental organizations).

·       Leveraging trusted relationships and human interaction alongside technology (e.g., online voter registration).

·       Role of Technology and AI

·       Online voter registration and the importance of balancing technology with human interaction.

·       Ensuring accessibility and reliability of information, especially with the rise of AI-generated misinformation.

·       Encouraging use of trusted sources like .gov addresses for accurate information.

·       Engaging Underrepresented Communities

·       Importance of working through existing nonprofits with cultural competency.

·       Ensuring accessibility in communications and polling locations for people with disabilities.

·       Examples of best practices and collaborations with organizations like the National Disability Rights Network.

·       Resources

·       Nonprofit Vote’s website

·       Nonprofit Power Report

·       AFJ’s Nonprofit Voter Assistance Series

·       AFJ’s The Connection

·       AFJ’s The Rules of the Game


Can We Rent (Or Share) That?

On this episode, we will discuss how nonprofits can respond when they are asked to share their resources with others. Whether it’s data, a mailing list, office space, or something else of value, your nonprofit needs to know what to do when asked to share its assets with other people and groups. And guess what! Your organization’s tax status will come into play. If you’re a 501(c)(3), you need to be particularly careful, especially when interacting with non-(c)(3)s. We’ll dive in deep and answer the question “Can We Rent (or Share) That?” in the minutes to come.


Our Attorneys for This Episode:

Monika Graham

Natalie Ossenfort

Victor Rivera


General Principles when sharing resources and working with other organizations:

·      Principle #1: Moving resources from a 501(c)(4) to a 501(c)(3) is simpler from a legal standpoint than the reverse (uphill / downhill principle).

·      Principle #2: Your tax-exempt status follows you into your transactions with others.

·      Principle #3: Documentation is important.

·      Principle #4: Stay in your lane.


What does this have to do with renting and exchanging resources?

·      501(c)(3)s are prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates, including making contributions to candidates and political organizations.

·      501(c)(3)s should not provide resources to a 527 without charge. Instead, they should rent or sell these types of assets for fair market value and make them equally available to any other political entities that request them.

o   Best practice is to use a list broker.

·      When supporting the work of (c)(4)s, which can engage in some partisan political activity, 501(c)(3)s must be mindful to protect their assets and to ensure that they aren’t giving away their lists, data, and spaces for partisan political use for free and that any rental transactions are well documented and comply with the law.


Can our (c)(3) rent out event space to candidates and other types of organizations?

·      Whether something constitutes impermissible support or opposition of candidate depends on the facts and circumstances. Some things the IRS considers in the event space rental context include (Rev. Rul. 2007-41):

o   Whether the facility is available to all candidates in the same election on an equal basis,

o   Whether the fees charged to candidates are at the organization’s customary and usual rates,

o   Whether the activity is an ongoing activity of the organization or whether it is conducted only for a particular candidate, and more!

·      Discussion of two examples.


What about newsletter ad space?

·      If a 501(c)(3) rents / sells ad space in its newsletter or other publications, it can offer that same service to others (even candidates), but it must charge fair market value and allow all entities and candidates the same access without regard to political preferences.

o   Remember to indicate which ads are “paid advertising” in the publication.

·      If it usually gives out ad space for free (instead of requiring a financial transaction), it could potentially do the same with other organizations, but all free content must be nonpartisan.

·      What if a (c)(4) has a newsletter and wants to provide ad space to a (c)(3)?

o   It’s easier for (c)(4)’s to share resources with (c)(3)s since (c)(4)s can do everything (c)(3)s can do, and more!

o   A 501(c)(4) could rent space to the (c)(3) for fair market value or give it away for free.


Voter Registration Files

·      501(c)(3)s should not freely share with partisan organizations the voter registration lists or other data that it collects during voter registration or education activities.

·      This information is a valuable asset owned by the 501(c)(3). Voter registration files may only be rented to a 501(c)(4) or 527 at fair market value or exchanged for data of equal value. Even then, the circumstances in which these agreements can be made are complex, so it’s wise to get legal advice.

·      This type of agreement can also cause opposing parties or groups to raise their eyebrows and question the legality of the transaction. Before engaging in this type of transaction, figure out how much risk your organization is willing to incur.


501(c)(3)s can’t give things away for free to non (c)(3)s that could potentially use the (c)(3)’s assets for partisan political purposes. So, if you’re thinking about sharing your organization’s resources with others, exercise caution and consult with counsel when needed.




Rules of the Game

Election Checklist for 501(c)(3) Public Charities

The Connection

Coalition Checklist

Rev. Rul. 2007-41

Monika, can you add a resource link to that revenue ruling you cited in the event space discussion? [NO1]

Ballot Measure Advocacy Takeaways from the 2024 BISC Conference

On this special edition from the BISC (Ballot Initiative Strategy Center) Road Ahead 2024 conference held in Las Vegas, we bring our takeaways from our sessions on ballot measure advocacy, including handling misinformation, tips on campaigning, garnering cross-ideological support and more.


Lawyers on this episode:

Sarah Efthymiou

Tim Mooney



Handling misinformation in ballot measure campaigns

   – Strategies to counter misinformation and disinformation.

   – Focus on highlighting correct information rather than amplifying incorrect details.


How campaigning against ballot measure proponents is different than candidates

   – Discussion on conservative influencer, Brian Haywood.

   – His influence on ballot initiatives in Washington.

   – How non-candidates can be criticized without impacting tax-exempt status for 501(c)(3)s


Cross-Ideological Support for Ballot Initiatives

   – How ballot measure work reflects populist views and forms unlikely coalitions.

   – Examples from various states including Florida’s cross-ideological support for returning citizens’ rights.


Role of Funders in Advocacy

   – The importance of funders in supporting grantees beyond financial contributions.

   – Tips on early funding and building infrastructure for effective campaigns.


Conference Resources and Recommendations

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

Seize the Initiative

Bolder Advocacy’s ballot measures toolkit


Election Season Advocacy: What Your Foundation Needs to Know

Guess What! It’s 2024, which means we have a BIG election on the horizon. Not only will voters take to the polls to decide who will be our next President, but they’ll also be invited to speak their voice in relation to ballot measures and down ballot races that will impact our laws and determine who will represent us in local government, state legislatures, Congress, the courts, and more! With so much at stake, many private and public foundations may be curious whether they have a role to play. The answer is YES! And, this episode of the podcast will discuss the rules foundations need to know when funding and engaging in nonpartisan election activities.

Attorneys for this show

Monika Graham, Tim Mooney, Natalie Ossenfort

Show Notes

·       General rule: private and public foundations (as 501(c)(3) organizations) are permitted to engage in and fund nonpartisan election season activities.

o   No support or opposition of candidates for public office (including candidates running in “nonpartisan” races)

o   No telling people who to vote for on their ballots or encouraging them to vote for particular political parties

o   Keep it NONPARTISAN. The facts and circumstances matter.

o   Remember that special rules will apply to private foundations when it comes to voter registration activities and ballot measures (discussed later in this episode)


·       General GOTV Activities (not talking voter registration here)

o   Both private and public foundations are permitted to engage in nonpartisan get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities

§  Avoid referencing parties or candidates

§  Do not suggest who people should vote for

§  Use nonpartisan targeting only

o   Examples

§  Communications posted on social media reminding readers that “Your Vote is Your Voice” without reference to candidates and parties and without suggesting that people vote for candidates who have particular stance on issues of importance to the foundation

§  Communications circulated at local events that remind people to “Vote. It’s Easy!” and provide information on where, when, and how to vote.

·       Make sure you get the information correct

·       Don’t target your outreach based on partisan criteria (i.e. populations / communities who you think are likely to vote for certain types of candidates)

o   As always, remember that other laws (like state law) may apply to your work in addition to the tax code rules requiring nonpartisanship.


·       Candidate Education

o   Offer educational resources and materials to ALL candidates

o   Provide only information that is previously gathered

§  Avoid generating and analyzing new data or conducting new research per a candidate’s request

§  But, do feel free to point candidates to information posted publicly on your website

o   What if a candidate or campaign staffer calls your offices asking for talking points for an upcoming rally? Resist the urge to provide them with that information because it equates to an impermissible candidate contribution.


·       Voter Registration

o   501(c)(3) Public charities are permitted to engage in and fund nonpartisan voter registration activities.

§  This means that not only can community foundations directly fund their public charity grantees’ voter registration drives, but they can also engage in voter registration themselves.

§  Just remember to keep it nonpartisan and to follow state and federal law.

o   Now private foundations are subject to more restrictive rules when it comes to voter registration.

§  Private foundation cannot fund voter registration drives whether they are doing it themselves or making grants earmarked for them – unless the drive is nonpartisan and conducted in 5 or more states over multiple election cycles

§  This means that many of their public charity grantees’ will not be eligible to receive grants that are earmarked for voter registration.

§  BUT, it does NOT mean that public charities can’t use funds provided through a general support grant for nonpartisan voter registration purposes.


·       What about ballot measures?

o   Ballot measures are effectively pieces of legislation, and it’s the voting public with the power to vote on them.

o   Whether it’s a bond proposal, constitutional amendment, or other type of initiative, public charities are allowed to support or oppose ballot measures.

o   But, because of their legislative nature, support or opposition of measures qualifies as lobbying.

o   Public charities (like community foundations) are limited in how much lobbying they are permitted to do under the tax code and should count their ballot measure activities (and grants earmarked for ballot measure advocacy) against their lobbying limits.

o   Private foundations are effectively prohibited from lobbying due to a steep excise tax imposed by the tax code. As such, they should avoid supporting or opposing measures and earmarking grants for that purpose.



·       Investing in Change:

·       Community Foundations

o   Rules of the Game a Guide to Election Related Activities:

o   Election Checklist for Public Charities:

·       Private Foundations

o   Voter Registration Rules for Private Foundations:

o   Voter Engagement Messaging and Activities for Private Foundations:

·       Election Activities of Individuals Associated with Private and Public Foundations:

·       4/17 Public Webinar on Foundations and Election-Related Activities:


Bold AF with Vu Le

For our 100th episode, we are excited to chat with the incomparable Vu Le of Nonprofit AF. Vu brings his unique blend of insight, humor, and a pinch of provocation to the table, all wrapped up in the perspectives you’ve come to know from his writing. Vu is a treasure trove of wisdom for the nonprofit world and his takes are all his own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Alliance for Justice. A huge thank you for listening (and occasionally watching) our brand of spicy tax law for these 100 episodes, and what a better way to celebrate than with a guest who’s not afraid to shake things up all in the name of progress and passion for the cause.

Watch on the Bolder Advocacy YouTube Channel


•           Introduction to Vu Le: His background and approach to writing about the nonprofit sector.

•           Humor and Seriousness in Nonprofit Work: The balance between using humor and addressing serious topics in the sector.

•           Finding One’s Voice in the Nonprofit Space: Advice on how to develop a unique voice and perspective.

•           Critiques of Nonprofit and Philanthropy Practices: Vu’s views on overhead costs, salary transparency, lack of investment in advocacy, and the need for nonprofits to challenge conventional practices.

•           Role of Funders and Power Dynamics: Discussion on how funders influence the nonprofit sector, the concept of “funder fragility,” and the push for transparency and honesty in grantmaking.

•           Advocacy and Legal Challenges: The importance of advocacy work, the challenges faced by nonprofits in political environments, and the need for legal support.

•           Celebrating Nonprofit Achievements: Acknowledgment of the sector’s vital role in societal progress and the need for greater appreciation and support.

•           Predictions and Challenges for the Future: Reflections on the sector’s future challenges, including political influences and the need for a unified response to societal issues.


Read more of Vu’s work at Nonprofit AF.

The Connection

On this episode, we discuss The Connection, Bolder Advocacy’s go-to guide on how to create and operate 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, and political organizations. In 2024, we release our 5th edition of The Connection and include several important updates your nonprofit needs to know about as we move into a contentious election season. If your nonprofit has questions about how to safely operate affiliated organizations or how to boost civic engagement in coalition with organizations that have a different tax-exempt status than your own, The Connection has the answers.


Attorneys for this show

Natalie Ossenfort, Sarah Efthymiou, and Susan Finkle-Sourlis


Show Notes

·      The Connection is one of Bolder Advocacy’s core advocacy resources.

o   It pairs well with:

§  “Being a Player” (guide to lobbying regulations for advocacy charities)

§  “The Rules of the Game” (guide to election-related activities for 501(c)(3)s)

o   This is the go-to resource for organizations on how they can amplify their impact and build grassroots power by utilizing multiple types of tax-exempt entities to address social problems and pursue policy change.

o   It discusses the best practices you need to know about when working with 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, and PACs

o   The Connection was first published in 1988 and is primarily authored by Holly Schadler at Trister, Ross, Schadler, and Gold (with contributions from several of her teammates and allies in the field)

o   5th Edition releasing end of February or early March 2024


·      What can you find in THE CONNECTION?

o   Details on several different types of tax-exempt organizations and the advocacy activities they can engage in

o   The rules 501(c)(4)s need to know when lobbying and engaging in political activities

o   Information on how to create and operate affiliated c3 and c4 organizations (including a step-by-step overview of c4 formation procedures)

o   The rules governing PACs (including state PACs federal PACs and 527s)

o   Sample cost sharing agreement, sample 501(c)(3) public charity to 501(c)(4) grant agreement, information on the Lobbying Disclosure Act, and more!


·      What’s new in the 5th edition?

o   Information on new FEC disclaimer requirements for “internet public communications”

o   Social media guidance for affiliated 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations

o   Details on a recent FEC ruling impacting the use of disclaimers for text messaging

o   Requirements for Super PACs and hybrid PACs (also known as Carey Committees)


·      “The Connection” also contains several concrete examples to illustrate how the rules apply in real-world scenarios (utilizing fictional tax-exempt organizations, of course).

o   These examples answer questions like:

§  What happens when a 501(c)(3) wants to make a grant to its affiliated 501(c)(4) for an educational research project?

§  What happens when a 501(c)(3) conducts a nonpartisan voter registration drive and wants its affiliated 501(c)(4) to have access to the list of registered voters? You’ll find out in “The Connection” that it can’t just give the list to its affiliated 501(c)(4) at no charge, but it could in some instances (when allowed under state law) sell its list at fair market value via an arms-length transaction.

§  And, what happens when a c4 publishes a monthly magazine on mission-related issues and then, in one edition of the magazine, decides to include an article about its candidate endorsements?


·      There are examples of required disclaimers for independent expenditures and electioneering communications too.

o   Brand new FEC regulations, published in January of this year, clarify what types of communications fall within the definition of “internet public communications” and what types of disclaimers are required when these communications expressly advocate for the election or defeat of federal candidates.

o   The latest edition of “The Connection” addresses how the law requires these disclaimers to be adapted for different communication formats. Whether it’s a communication including text and graphics, a video, or an audio-only statement, disclaimer requirements vary.

o   As such, “The Connection” is not only good for frontline nonprofit advocates, but for Communications, HR, and Accounting staff too!



The Connection (Strategies for Creating and Operating 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, and Political Organizations)

Being a Player (A Guide to the IRS Lobbying Regulations for Advocacy Charities)

The Rules of the Game (A Guide to Election-Related Activities for 501(c)(3) Organizations)

Grassroots Advocacy

Exploring grassroots advocacy and the various activities that grassroots organizations can use to advance their mission and bring about positive policy change.

Attorneys for this Episode

Monika Graham

Natalie Ossenfort

Victor Rivera


 Introduction  Issue Advocacy and Lobbying  Rallies, Town Halls, and Community Mobilization  Persuading Elected Officials  Advocacy Days and Lobbying  Ballot Measures and Elections  Commenting on Candidates and Campaigns  Get Out the Vote Campaigns  Spotlight: Grassroots Organizations  Resources and Conclusion

Nonpartisan Election Year Advocacy

On this episode, we discuss best practices for 501(c)(3) public charities conducting advocacy and nonpartisan activities, like get out the vote or voter education activities during an election year. Election year is upon us and the presidential primaries and caucuses, and primaries for other elected offices are starting to take place and will continue through the November General election.  

Attorneys for this show

Monika Graham, Susan Finkle-Sourlis, and Leslie Barnes

Show Notes

·      May 501c3 public charities advocate in an election year? How can a public charity be involved in an election?

·      Types of nonpartisan activities that a 501(c)(3) may conduct include:

o   Educating voters and candidates on the issues that are important to the people/community the organization serves.

o   Mobilizing voters and supporting democracy

o   Hosting candidate debates and forums

o   And much more


·      What are the IRS regulations surrounding advocacy and democracy work

o   IRS has held that supporting democracy is a charitable activity, 501(c)(3)s have a role to play in our elections!

o   Activities must further the organization’s charitable mission

o   Activities must remain nonpartisan, cannot support or opposition of candidates running for public office


·      The Facts and Circumstances test to determine whether or not communications or activities are nonpartisan.  

o   The IRS applies a “facts and circumstances” analysis to determine whether a charity’s communication is conducted in a nonpartisan manner or is really a veiled attempt to support or oppose candidates.

o   When the IRS says “support or opposition” of candidates, that prohibition is broader than the explicit act of giving money to a campaign or saying outright that you should vote or not vote for a candidate. It’s not a bright line rule.

o   Analysis is required across the spectrum of risk. It is an assessment of the risk. 


·      Discussion of the elements of the Facts and Circumstances Test.

o   Does the communication refer to a candidate or election?

o   Timing, upcoming election or is there another event outside of the organization that happened?

o   Organization is discussing its core issues? Or is it comparing the organization’s issues to a candidate’s position?

o   Who are you talking to? Who is the audience? Who are you targeting?

o   Do you have a track record of discussing the issue?

o   Are you discussing a wedge issue? What is a wedge issue?


** The discussion of this topic is from the view of 501(c)(3) public charities. Other types of nonprofits, like 501(c)(4)s do have the ability to undertake partisan activities as a secondary purpose.



Rules of the Game – Guide to nonpartisan election related activities for 501(c)(3)s

Comparison of 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) Permissible Activities – Chart

Praising and Criticizing Incumbents – Factsheet

The Connection

Ballot Measure Insights

On this edition, we’re thrilled to welcome Emma Olson Sharkey from Elias Law Group, bringing her fresh perspective after successfully guiding clients to victory in the critical 2023 Ohio reproductive rights ballot measure fight. Emma will help shed light on the essential considerations for tax-exempt organizations before taking the plunge into a ballot measure campaign.

Attorneys for this Episode

Quyen Tu

Tim Mooney

Emma Olson Sharkey




·      Introducing Emma

·      Lessons from Ohio:

o   Progressives can work together to protect fundamental rights – and can be successful, even in states where conservatives otherwise control the state.

o   We are seeing conservatives attack the ballot measure process at every point in the process. We need to think about what we can do to bolster our efforts from the very beginning to defend against attacks.


·      Ballot measure considerations Two major considerations: state campaign finance obligations and federal tax implications:

o   State campaign finance rules:

§  Registration & reporting obligations

§  Is there already a main ballot measure committee?

§  Do you want to be an independent expenditure committee?

·      Will you trigger registration or reporting by your planned activity?

o   If so, will this include donor disclosure?

§  Disclaimer obligations (including those you might not have thought of) – both for entities themselves and top donors.

o   Also, need to be careful about implicating federal campaign finance rules – even referencing federal candidates or parties in communications could create coordination issues and lead to inadvertent in-kind contributions.

§  Advocacy and education outside of registration/reporting requirements

·      Typically, communications to the public on the general subject addressed by the ballot measure, which do not refer directly or indirectly to the ballot measure itself, will not be regulated by state campaign finance.

·      However, state laws vary so you should check state and local law to confirm.

o   Federal tax implications:

§  In general, for public charities, advocating for or against ballot measures will be considered “lobbying” under federal tax law; public charities can only do an “insubstantial” amount of lobbying.

·      If the organization measures its lobbying under the 501(h) expenditure test, it will need to count work on a ballot measure as direct lobbying once a petition is circulated among voters for signatures.

·      If the organization measures its lobbying under the insubstantial part test, the IRS has provided less clarity; generally “influencing legislation.”

·      Communications to the public on the general subject addressed by the ballot measure, which do not refer directly or indirectly to the ballot measure itself, will generally not be considered lobbying.

§  Since 501(c)(3) organizations can only do an “insubstantial” amount of lobbying, many entities that engage in ballot measure work are organized as 501(c)(4) organizations, which can do unlimited lobbying under federal tax law.  Also considered “primary purpose” activity.




·      Bolder Advocacy Ballot Measure Toolkit

·      Seize the Initiative