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1156 15 STREET, NW SUITE 915 ∙ WASHINGTON, DC 20005 ∙ P (202) 463-2940 ∙ F (202) 463-2953
E-MAIL: [email protected] ∙ WEB ADDRESS WWW.NAACP.ORG
Issue Briefs
and Candidate
Legislative Voting
Voter Registration
Get Out the Vote
Candidate Forums
Issue and Candidate
Send questionnaires to candidates and ask
them where they stand on a broad set of
Distribute voting records;
This record must contain a variety of votes,
not just votes that track a particular agenda
(i.e.: only affirmative action votes).
Sponsor a voter registration drive;
Encourage people to vote.
Use House of Worship vans to pick up
people and take them to the polls;
Arrange transportation pools;
Develop telephone banks;
Give directions to polling place locations;
Provide babysitting services.
Sponsor non-partisan candidate forums;
All legally qualified candidates for a given
office must be invited to appear;
Questioning must be non-partisan in nature,
broad, and cover a range of issues.
Support or oppose issues and initiatives as
long as they are not associated with a
candidate (YES: Support Summer Camp
Funding Initiative).
Write letters in support or in opposition to
an issue.
Support or oppose issues, initiatives, and
referendums about issues as long as they are
non-partisan and are not about a candidate
(YES: anti-death penalty, gun control,
funding for public housing, affirmative
Only send questionnaires to one candidate or
candidates in one party;
Distribute answers until making sure all
answers are accurate;
Compare candidate answers to the preferred
position of the church.
Use an unfair or biased description of a
candidate’s position;
Use an unfair or disingenuous summary of a
candidate’s position;
Add commentary, editorialize, or compare
positions with church positions (Candidate X
voted in favor of a Death Penalty vote –
churches may not write in the voting record
that the church is against the Death Penalty).
Only register one party;
Tell people who to vote for or what party to
vote for.
Suggest or tell people what candidate or party
to vote for;
Require individuals to inform the church of
their party affiliation.
Only invite one candidate or candidates from
one party;
Ask questions that are partisan in nature;
Ask only narrowly focused questions on
church doctrine.
Write letters of support or opposition for
candidates or political parties on church
Distribute campaign literature;
Advise congregants to vote for or against a
candidate or party;
Display campaign signs on church property
(NO: Recall Mayor ___).
Contribute money to candidates or political
Solicit contributions for a candidate or on
behalf of a political party;
Donate to candidates’ political action
committees (PACs);
Establish a PAC;
Support or oppose a candidate or a partisan
issue campaign (NO: Republicans for Life or
Democrats for Choice. NO: Impeach Judge__ ).
This guide is for reference only. Contact you legal counsel prior to planning an event.
Most houses of worship, faith groups and religious institutions are classified under the Internal
Revenue code 501(c)(3). As tax-exempt organizations, churches and charities are absolutely prohibited
from intervening in political campaigns by endorsing or opposing political parties or candidates for public
office. Contrary to popular belief, there is no church exception allowed under First Amendment,
Religious Freedom law. The bar on political activities applies uniformly to charity organizations and to
churches. Churches, pastors and persons acting in an official church capacity may not endorse or
oppose candidates or political parties, and may not advise congregations to vote for or against specific
candidates or parties.
The IRS does allow charities and churches to engage in voter education activities. These educational
activities include:
Issue Briefings
Legislative Scorecards
Voting Records
Candidate Questionnaires
Hosting Candidate Forums
Voter Registration;
Get Out The Vote (GOTV)
Use caution when using materials that aren’t specifically prepared by your members or other 501(c)(3)
organizations that you trust. Churches have been held responsible for engaging in political activities for
distributing materials even when the materials were prepared by another organization. Many of the
organizations preparing election materials are 501(c)(4) organizations – though these are not-for-profit
organizations, they are allowed greater latitude in the use and distribution of election materials — and as
such are not restricted by the rules for 501(c)(3) charities and churches. If a church distributes materials
prepared by an outside group, which are determined to be partisian in character, the IRS has the legal
authority to penalize the church even though it did not produce the materials.
Prohibited activities include:
· Letters of endorsement or opposition printed on church letterhead or in church bulletins;
· Church sponsored distribution of partisan or candidate campaign literature;
· Posters advising congregants to vote for or against candidates;
· Candidate campaign signs on church property;
· Other activities that could be potentially seen as endorsing or opposing a candidate.
All materials must be fair, unbiased, and presented in a non-partisian manner. Don’t summarize,
editorialize, or compare candidates or parties positions with church positions. The IRS views any
materials that exhibit bias (even unintentionally) in favor of or against any party or candidate
as prohibited political activity, even if you have a written disclaimer of any intent to make endorsements.
Penalties for violating the prohibition against electioneering include loss of tax-exempt status or
financial penalties that can be imposed on the church and church officials. Currently there are several
faith groups in jeopardy of losing their tax-exempt status. One Election 2000 case involves a prominent
minister. While introducing a candidate visiting his church he stated the following: ―Although I’m not
allowed to endorse candidates, we all know this is the future Senator for our state.‖ Also, in 1995, a
church lost its tax-exempt status for publishing an advertisement, which advised people that the behavior
of a particular candidate was sinful. The church sued in federal court to regain its tax-exempt status but
recently lost their case and the ensuing appeal.
It is important to be actively involved in the political issues that are important to the communities
that we live in, but we must also be careful how we participate as charities and religious institutions.
This guide is for federal elections; state election rules vary. When in doubt, seek clarification from
your church’s legal counsel.