IRS Updates Guidelines to Help Churches Avoid Campaign Complications

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The Internal Revenue Service recently updated guidelines explaining how political activity might affect the tax-exempt status of nonprofit organizations, including churches.

A recent 13-page "revised ruling" outlines 21 situations where electionrelated activity by 501(c)(3) organizations--as nonprofits are designated by the tax code--could be seen as a violation of the code's ban on participation or intervention in "any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."

This year, the IRS has been asked to investigate the Catholic diocese of Providence, R.I., after Bishop Thomas J. Tobin wrote a newspaper column describing why he declined an invitation to a fundraising event for Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

Tobin said in the column that he "would never support a candidate who supports legalized abortion." The IRS has had no comment on this complaint.

But what violates the ban on campaign interventions by tax-exempt organizations is far from clear-cut, according to lawyers for the U.S. bishops' conference. In a posting to the conference Web site, the bishops' office of general council noted: "Application of the political campaign intervention prohibition is inherently fact-specific and frequently presents close questions. …