What Can a (c)(3) Say About a Candidate for Vice President?
With presidential candidate Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris for his running mate, we are likely to see a lot of interest and comments, both positive and negative, on her policies and her status as the first woman of color to run for vice president. So, what can 501(c)(3)s say about Kamala Harris’ selection?
The first rule to remember is always the overarching principle: a 501(c)(3) cannot support or oppose any candidate for elected office. Individuals who are running for the office of vice president are candidates for elected office, so a 501(c)(3) cannot support or oppose their election.
When commenting on candidates and issues that arise surrounding a candidate’s qualifications, statements, record, or other qualities, a 501(c)(3) needs to think about the facts and circumstances. As such, a 501(c)(3) should consider whether it has a track record of commenting on the issue, whether it is expressing approval or disapproval for a candidate’s positions or past actions, whether it is comparing or contrasting candidates, or whether it is comparing a candidate’s policies to the organization’s preferred policies. A 501(c)(3) needs to remain nonpartisan and must be careful in how it discusses candidates.
For example, a 501(c)(3) with a track record of speaking about racial equity may want to comment about how important it is for emerging leaders to see a Black woman running for office. Organizations that speak out on women’s issues may want to talk about how women leaders are subjected to misogynistic statements.
While there is no completely risk-free way to comment on Harris’ selection, a best practice is to speak about the issue that has been raised, and not about the candidate, voters, or the election. A 501(c)(3), following these guidelines, may be able to safely correct misleading or derogatory statements that concern issues the organization has a record of working or commenting on. For more tips on how to comment on candidates see Bolder Advocacy’s factsheet, Commenting on Candidates and Campaigns: How 501(c)(3)s Can Respond During an Election Year.
Kamala Harris is also a sitting US Senator, so rules that apply to commenting on incumbents will be applicable, provided she continues to act on issues pending in Congress. A 501(c)(3) could comment on a legislative issue, focusing on an issue that Congress is acting on, but should be cautious about mentioning the candidate, voters, or the election. For more information see Bolder Advocacy’s factsheet, Praising and Criticizing Incumbents: How 501(c)(3)s Can Hold Elected Officials Accountable for Official Actions.