Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Online Advocacy And You

As the 2012 presidential election starts to heat up, it's important for nonprofit managers to give themselves a refresher course on the rules governing their organizations when it comes to advocacy.

In the newest issue of The NonProfit Times, guest authors Janice M. Ryan and Ronald M. Jacobs go over what a 501(c)(3) organization can and cannot do during the election season. If done correctly, an organization can do the following things:

  • Help register voters;
  • Conduct get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities;
  • Publish voter guides;
  • Create candidate questionnaires;
  • Host candidate appearances;
  • Host debates;
  • Conduct issue advocacy;
  • Allow leadership and staff to be politically active; and,
  • Create an affiliated organization.

One of the most popular forms of advocacy these days is the online variety, and there are additional rules governing them. According to Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum and Lisa M. Hix of Venable LLP, organizations must be wary of election-related content they post on their web sites. As stated in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Rev. Rul. 2007-41, "If an organization posts something on its web site that favors or opposes a candidate for political office, the organization will be treated the same as if it distributed printed material, oral statements or broadcasts the favored or opposed candidate."

This is something you want to avoid, obviously, so Tenenbaum and Hix offered the following ideas to make sure your nonprofit follows the rules while still remaining involved in the political process:

  • A link to candidate-related material alone will not constitute political campaign intervention.
  • Facts demonstrating that the link is not campaign intervention include: All candidates for an office are represented, and exempt purpose is served by offering the link and the link does not directly connect the organization?s website to a Web page that contains material favoring or opposing a candidate for public office.
  • Organizations should carefully monitor content, and links. A website that contains a view of legislation, as well as a link to a voting legislator's email, will be considered a "call to action."
  • Check sites for links added inadvertently or without authorization.

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