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A Quick Guide to Political Campaign Activities by Churches

As the political scene takes center stage, know what campaign activities impact a church's tax-exempt status.

Last Reviewed: June 10, 2020
A Quick Guide to Political Campaign Activities by Churches
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Campaign Activity Impact On Tax-exempt Status Basis
Contributions to political campaign funds. Prohibited IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations
Public statements of position (verbal and written) in favor of or in opposition to candidates for office—in official church publications and at official church functions. Prohibited IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations
Providing a forum for all candidates to address the church. Permitted IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations
Public comments made by ministers and other church employees in connection with political campaigns, not made at church facilities or in church publications and accompanied by a statement that the comments are strictly personal and are not intended to represent the church. Permitted IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations; Jimmy Swaggart settlement with IRS; Revenue Ruling 2007-41
A church invites all candidates for a political office to address the congregation, and informs the congregation before each candidate's speech that the views expressed are those of the candidate and not the church and that the church does not endorse any candidate. Permitted Revenue Ruling 74-574; IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations
A church invites only one candidate in a political campaign to address the congregation. Prohibited Revenue Ruling 2007-41
The church provides an opportunity for a candidate to speak in a non-candidate capacity (for example, as a member of the church, public figure, or expert in a non-political field), without providing equal access to all political candidates for the same office. The church ensures that the candidate speaks in a non-candidate capacity; no reference is made to the person's candidacy; the church mentions the capacity in which the candidate is appearing (without mentioning the person's political candidacy); and no campaign activity occurs. Permitted IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations
A church distributes a compilation of voting records of all members of Congress on major legislative issues involving a wide range of subjects; the publication contains no editorial opinion and its contents and structure do not imply approval or disapproval of any members or their voting records. Permitted Revenue Ruling 78-248
A church distributes a voters guide containing questions demonstrating a bias on certain issues. Prohibited Revenue Ruling 78-248
The endorsement of candidates. Prohibited Internal Revenue News Release IR 96 23
Campaign activities by employees within the context of their employment. Prohibited FSA 1993-0921-1
A church fails to "disavow" the campaign activities of persons under "apparent authorization" from the church, by repudiating those acts "in a timely manner equal to the original actions" and taking steps "to ensure that such unauthorized actions do not recur." Prohibited FSA 1993-0921-1
Engaging in fund raising on behalf of a candidate. Prohibited Internal Revenue News Release IR 96 23
Neutral voter registration drives. Permitted 11 C.F.R. § 111.4(c)(4)
Newspaper ads urging voters to vote for or against a candidate. Prohibited Branch Ministries, Inc. v. Commissioner, 99-1 USTC 50,410 (D.D.C. 1999), aff'd, Branch Ministries v. Rossotti, 2000 USTC 50,459 (D.C. Cir. 2000).
Church web sites that contain information either supporting or opposing candidates for public office. Prohibited Revenue Ruling 2007-41
Key point. Responding to public criticism that it audits churches for political activity based on political ideology, the IRS asked the Treasurer Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to examine its selection procedures. The TIGTA randomly selected 60 IRS cases of suspected church political activity, and found that there was no evidence of ideological bias since 26 of the cases involved pro-conservative churches (43%), 16 involved pro-liberal churches (26%) and in the remaining cases the churches had no known ideological preference.

For a more detailed discussion about political activities and the church read, IRS Clarifies Ban on Political Intervention, also by Richard R. Hammar.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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Posted:
  • September 1, 2008
  • Last Reviewed: June 10, 2020

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