What Can a Nonprofit Say About a Potential 2024 Trump Candidacy?
With the 2020 election over, but for the procedural formalities, President Trump has been publicly grappling with his next steps. One option that has garnered a lot of speculation is Trump potentially running for president in 2024, with rumors swirling around the possibility that he will make this announcement on January 20, Inauguration Day. If history serves as a lesson, we know that the Bolder Advocacy technical assistance line will be filled with questions from nonprofits asking how to respond if this potential becomes a reality. This blog is designed to answer questions on how the 501(c)(3) advocacy community can respond to the prospect of more years of a Trump candidacy.
While it is not definite that Trump will become a formal candidate by filing with the Federal Election Commission, 501(c)(3)s must remain nonpartisan when discussing his potential (or actual) candidacy. Without regard for who is running, a 501(c)(3) cannot support or oppose any candidate for public office; all advocacy must be nonpartisan. The terms “candidate” and “nonpartisan” have broad definitions under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). A “candidate” is an individual who offers themselves or is proposed by others as a contestant for an elected office. Even if someone has not taken the legal steps to get on the ballot, they may still be considered a “candidate” for IRC purposes. The term “partisan” includes attempts to influence whether someone should run; trying to prevent a public official or potential candidate from running, being nominated, or re-elected would be partisan. When it comes to Trump and his potential 2024 candidacy, 501(c)(3)s should refrain from encouraging or discouraging him to take this step and they should also refrain from discussing his personal characteristics, fitness, or lack thereof as a 2024 candidate.
This prohibition on nonprofit support or opposition for candidates does not mean that 501(c)(3)s cannot criticize Trump’s policies. President-elect Biden has already announced that many of Trump’s existing executive orders, regulations, and policies will be evaluated and likely changed. A 501(c)(3) can certainly criticize policies implemented by the Trump administration, discuss the impacts of these policies, including harm that has been caused, and could go so far as to say the Trump administration policies were cruel. A 501(c)(3) should not go further and say those harmful policies are a reason for voters to reject Trump as a candidate in 2024.
Our advice to 501(c)(3)s should Trump announce his 2024 candidacy on Inauguration Day: ignore it. There is little for a 501(c)(3) to say at this point: it would likely be seen as partisan to criticize or praise him for throwing his hat into the 2024 ring or point out his personal failings or attributes. Instead, focus on the present day. A 501(c)(3) may congratulate elected officials, including the incoming president and vice president. A 501(c)(3) could also talk about policies it wants to see enacted or changed and encourage the new administration and Congress to support the organization’s policies.
Should your (c)(3) decide to comment on Trump’s potential candidacy, you can find more information on how to comment on candidates in our fact sheet: Commenting on Candidates and Campaigns.