Q&A: Will Our Tax-Exempt Status Be Jeopardized if We Encourage a Senate Confirmation of a Federal Judge?

The answer revolves around whether your church’s actions were substantial in nature and constituted an attempt to influence legislation.

Will a church jeopardize its tax-exempt status by encouraging Senate confirmation of federal judicial candidates?
Possibly, concluded the IRS chief counsel’s office in a General Counsel Memorandum (GCM).
Churches jeopardize their tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code by either (1) engaging in substantial efforts to influence legislation, or (2) intervening or participating in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.
But do efforts to encourage Senate confirmation of federal judicial candidates fall under either of these restrictions? The IRS concluded that such efforts cannot be characterized as intervention or participation in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office, since the income tax regulations define a “candidate for public office” as a contestant for elective public office. Federal judges, by comparison, are not elected but rather are appointed for life by the President with the consent of the Senate.
However, the IRS concluded that efforts to encourage Senate confirmation of federal judicial candidates did constitute an attempt to influence legislation, since Senate confirmation of judicial candidates constituted “legislation” for purposes of section 501(c)(3) of the Code. The IRS reasoned that Senate confirmation is a “final action by Congress,” much like any other legislation that is enacted. Accordingly, efforts to encourage the Senate to confirm judicial candidates constitute legislative activity, and jeopardize an organization’s tax-exempt status if the efforts are substantial in nature (GCM 39694).
Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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