|Campaigning for Public Arts Support|
election politics intensify and voting time draws near, it is important that
those who value broad, deep and diverse participation in the arts engage
actively in the process of airing issues and selecting public officials. The
same rights and restrictions that apply to advocacy by government employees,
appointed volunteers and those affiliated with not-for-profit arts groups apply
at this time, when all kinds of candidate events—town hall meetings, constituent gatherings and
candidate forums—offer opportunities for individuals to voice their own
positions on public arts support, to demonstrate that a significant
constituency shares their views and to ask questions of the candidates.
in the broadest terms, democracy works best when voters are informed about
issues and participate fully in the political process. While we may not use our
government roles or not-for-profit affiliations to advocate for specific
candidates, we may certainly urge the public at large to participate in the
election process and to vote. That general encouragement can just as well come
from a stage or a gallery or a movie screen or event program as it can from a
classroom or a pulpit. We all benefit, whatever our party affiliation or
general leanings, from hearing the facts and arguments of people well informed
on economics, foreign policy, school administration, military history and other
topics. So, too, society benefits when people well informed about the nature
and benefits of the arts share what they think and recommend.
the last week that I have the legislative counsel of both Tom Birch and Isaac
Brown available to me, and I want to express my gratitude to them for taking
advantage of a time of overlap to aid in this transition. Both have reminded me
that NASAA has a useful NASAA Advocate brief, Campaigning
for Public Arts Support, that offers good guidance on the tax law that
applies to the range of political activities in which not-for-profit groups may
engage. NASAA members often hear that their constituents are unsure of the
roles they can legally play as advocates without jeopardizing the tax exempt
status of not-for-profits with which they are affiliated.
nutshell, the Internal Revenue Code prevents tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations
from "participating or intervening" in a political campaign on behalf
of a candidate for office. This in no way prohibits individuals associated with
a not-for-profit organization from participating as private citizens in
campaign activity. Furthermore, the federal tax law permits not-for-profit
groups to engage in a range of activities, including the following:
Taking Positions: The law permits 501(c)(3) organizations to inform candidates of the
organization's positions and to ask candidates to go on record in support of
* Questionnaires to Candidates: Organizations with a broad range of policy interests can
safely distribute questionnaires to candidates and disseminate the responses,
provided there is no indication of bias or preference in respect to the views
of any candidate for an office.
* Voting Records: Organizations may inform their members how each legislator voted on
issues of concern to the organization. This information may be disseminated
during a campaign as long as it is in the same unbiased manner as at other
times, with no editorial opinion and no approval or disapproval of individual
voting records. However, a guide to voting records on a narrow range of issues
is looked upon unfavorably by the Internal Revenue Service when distributed by
an organization concerned with those same issues.
Invitations to Candidates: An organization may invite candidates to attend its
meetings and to speak on issues of interest to the organization. Copies of a
candidate's speeches or other remarks may be distributed if the organization
regularly publishes a newsletter and circulation generally is limited to its
Nonprofit Research: Where research and studies prepared by a tax-exempt
organization are made available to the general public, as well as to political
candidates, the organization will not be determined as promoting the candidacy
of an individual for public office.
* Arts organizations generally are
not considered broad enough in scope or interest to satisfy this requirement.
encourages members to remind your constituents of the political participation
options available to them as citizens and as not-for-profit affiliates, and
suggests sharing pertinent information from issues of the NASAA
Advocate series with your constituents. In addition to the information
available in issues of the NASAA Advocate, NASAA members may contact
Legislative Counsel Isaac Brown
for relevant advice.