Paying for Issue Advocacy Advertisements? You Might Have to Register.

As of September 7, 2018, we are within 60 days of the general election in November. For nonprofits, including 501(c)(3)s, this means you should be aware of the rules surrounding electioneering communications.

Under federal law, electioneering communications are targeted broadcast ads (TV, radio, cable, and satellite) aired within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election that refer to a clearly identified federal candidate. This applies even to communications unrelated to the upcoming election. For example, a paid radio ad run at the end of September in the state of Indiana with the language “Tell Senator Donnelly to vote no on Brett Kavanaugh” would be considered an electioneering communication because Senator Donnelly is running for reelection.

If a nonprofit spends $10,000 to produce and air electioneering communications, the group must report those expenditures on FEC Form 9 (“24-Hour Notice of Disbursements/Obligations for Electioneering Communications”) within 24 hours of the advertisement airing. The organization must file additional reports each additional time that the organization spends another $10,000 in electioneering communications.

When reporting, the nonprofit must report the amount of each expense (or agreement to pay an expense) of more than $200 to produce or air the ad during the period covered. In addition, reports also require the disclosure of the names and addresses of donors who contributed an aggregate of $1,000 or more to the group since January 1 of the preceding calendar year for the purpose of furthering electioneering communications. Organizations can instead set up a separate account to make electioneering communications, in which case they only need to disclose the donors to that account who contributed more than $1,000 since January 1 of the previous year.

For more information on electioneering communications, including required disclaimers and special rules of membership communications, you can refer to page 30 of our publication The Connection: Strategies for Creating and Operating 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s and Political Organizations. You can also find additional details on the FEC’s website.

For information on state-specific rules on electioneering communications (applicable to state-level candidates), you can find our state law resources here.

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