Praising or Criticizing Elected Officials on the Ballot

Can 501(c)(3)s use social media to praise or criticize the policy actions of elected officials during an election year? It depends! Tim, Leslie and Quyen break down two examples of nonprofits that show you can safely and legally criticize elected officials even if they are up for re-election.


Our attorneys for this episode

Tim Mooney

Leslie Barnes

Quyen Tu



  • 501(c)(3)s cannot support or oppose candidates for public office – see ROTG episode 1. But they can criticize or support the policy actions of incumbents, so long as it doesn’t appear as a proxy for a stance on the re-election of that official.
  • Example 1 – Ali Noorani is President & Chief Executive Officer of the National Immigration Forum, a 501(c)(3) advocacy organization to promote the value of immigrants and immigration. Ali is responding to President Trump’s Executive Order banning certain types of visas. 
    • Green light – this does not pose a risk
    • Criticism is focused on the actions, not theindividual 
    • Track record of criticism prior to the lections
    • Timing is well before the election
    • Trigger is a non-election event (the EO)
  • Example 2 – Marisa Ordoniais a Senior Associate Attorney at Earthjustice’s regional office in Seattle. In this clip, Marissa speaks about a case against the Trump administration. 
    • Green light – this does not pose a risk
    • Track record: 115 cases against the administration
    • No references to voters or election
    • Timing is well before the election
    • Non-electoral trigger