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Guide to Election Year Advocacy

If you work for a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit, your museum receives certain tax benefits. With these advantages comes the requirement that you not participate in any “partisan” activities, or actions that appear to support or oppose a political candidate or political party.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service, however, explicitly preserves your right to advocate on behalf of your museum and its mission, and to involve your visitors, supporters, and community members in certain “non-partisan” election-related activities.

We have created the following guide to help you distinguish between what is allowed and what is not. (One exception: If your museum is operated by the city, state or federal government, there may be additional restrictions.)

Yes you can

  • Participate in a campaign on your own time
  • Write a check to support a candidate
  • Host a candidates forum
  • Be an enthusiastic supporter of a particular candidate
  • Decorate your home or apartment with campaign or candidate-related items
  • Do voter education: help inform voters about issues in an election
  • Do voter registration: help register people to vote
  • Allow a candidate  or elected official to rent your space for a campaign or other event (at fair-market value)
  • Participate in get-out-the-vote activities
  • Donate personal funds
  • Volunteer on your personal time
  • Publicize Election Day
  • Make candidates aware of your organization’s agenda
  • Ask all candidates to fill out a questionnaire about issues
  • Work on behalf of a ballot measure. For example, a ballot initiative to set aside 1% of sales tax for cultural organizations.

No you can’t

  • Use office computers, supplies, telephones, email, fax or other resources
  • Treat any candidate differently from all other candidates
  • Invite only your preferred candidate(s) or discuss only a single issue
  • Wear a candidate’s t-shirt, or buttons in your museum or at official events
  • Decorate your office space with items that can be perceived as supporting or opposing particular candidates or political parties
  • Tell people whom to vote for
  • Register only those who agree with you
  • Only allow certain candidates to rent the space, donate your space, or provide a discounted rate
  • Make an organizational monetary, or in-kind donation
  • Volunteer on company time
  • Ask candidates to endorse your organization’s agenda
  • List information favorable to a particular candidate
  • Ask only some candidates to fill out a questionnaire about issues
  • Spend more than a substantial amount of time or money working on a ballot measure.

On Election Day

Nonprofits have an important civic role to play on Election Day. Here’s what you can and cannot do to get involved:

Yes You Can

  • Encourage your staff to vote
  • Allow late arrival/early departure for voting
  • Allow staff to serve as a nonpartisan election worker on company time
  • Include Election Day as an organization-wide holiday
  • Use personal leave time to participate in campaigns
  • Provide information on early and absentee voting, location of polling places, ID requirements, and links to candidate information
  • Congratulate re-elected or newly elected officials

No You Can’t

  • Tell employees who to vote for
  • Allow late arrival/early departure for campaign work
  • Allow staff to participate in a political campaign on company time
  • Make people participate in Election day activities
  • Make staff participate in a campaign
  • Present or characterize any of this information in a partisan way

This guide is provided for informational purposes only and does not serve as formal legal advice. It’s always recommended to consult your own legal counsel with specific questions about you or your museum’s activities.

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