Making Election-Season “Money Moves” While Remaining Nonpartisan

Did you hear the news?!? Cardi B is in the headlines once again, but not for a new album. The rapper and songwriter revealed in a series of tweets this weekend that she is interested in getting more involved in politics. “I think I want to be a politician,” she stated. It was an announcement that has news outlets across the country buzzing and her fans speculating about a future run for Congress.

This raises the question: To what extent can 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations weigh in on a possible Cardi B candidacy? Regardless of your personal like or dislike of Cardi B, her music, or her public policy preferences, her potential entrée in to the land of politics serves as an important reminder of the limitations placed on 501(c)(3) election season activities. While 501(c)(3)s are permitted to engage in nonpartisan advocacy designed to get out the vote and to educate both voters and candidates, they are prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office.

So, while Cardi B ponders a future run, her recent comments highlight the need for nonprofits to understand that the prohibition against supporting or opposing candidates extends beyond those who have formally declared a run for office and includes those who are involved in the exploratory stages of a potential candidate campaign. Cardi B’s run for office might be purely hypothetical at this point, but nonprofits shouldn’t treat her any differently than a declared candidate.

In fact, IRS regulations make it clear that “candidates” include any individuals who offer themselves up (or are proposed by others) as contestants for an elective public office. This means that individuals can become “candidates” for IRS purposes long before they are treated as such by campaign finance rules. So, while you may have strong feelings about Cardi B’s future in politics, your 501(c)(3) should steer clear of chiming-in on her appropriateness for an elective government post.

To learn more about who qualifies as a “candidate” and how your nonprofit can safely boost civic engagement and advance your mission during an election season, check out our “Rules of the Game” publication. You can also give us a call on our free technical assistance hotline to learn more (866-NP-LOBBY).

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