In its 2015 Parks v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue decision (now on appeal), the United States Tax Court found that a series of radio ads funded by the Parks Foundation between 1997 and 2000 conveyed information and commentary relevant to various Oregon state ballot measures and, accordingly, were subject to excise taxes under Internal Revenue Code prohibitions against foundation expenditures for lobbying activities and expenditures — notwithstanding the fact that several of the ads never mentioned a specific ballot measure.
The federal tax law is very strict on the issue of political campaigning. A 501(c)(3) organization is absolutely forbidden to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for elective public office.
This is not the time to sit back. This is not the time to be shy. And while it may require us to push back against things that are being proposed by our leaders, this is not about partisanship or a particular political view. It’s about an essential understanding of the role of nonprofits in society, what our work means to this country and the people we serve, and how all of that is affected by the decisions that our elected officials make and the policies they enact.
The way in which the University of Arizona funds lobbying efforts was the subject of a recent report by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, which specifically targeted the UA Foundation.
With President Trump bent on slashing scores of federal programs and billions of dollars from the budget, a new golden era for private philanthropy is about to dawn. In fact, the phenomenon is already apparent; problems created by government shortfalls are now being tackled by wealthy donors and foundations, seeking to promote innovative solutions to societal issues. Although these high-wealth donors cannot (and should not) serve as a replacement for government accountability, they provide critical resources to support organizations seeking to positively impact public policy.