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Guide to Election Year Activities

If you work for a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit, your museum receives certain tax benefits. With these advantages comes the requirement that 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations not participate in any “partisan” activities, or actions that appear to support or oppose a political candidate or political party (see the IRS Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations).

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service, however, allows 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations to involve their staff, visitors, supporters, and community members in certain “non-partisan” election-related activities such as non-partisan voter engagement efforts. Separate and distinct from election-related activities, nonprofits, including museums, are also allowed to advocate and lobby on behalf of the museum and its mission, and can continue to do so in an election year.

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

The Alliance encourages museums to engage in nonpartisan voter engagement activities. Here is some more information about what you can, and cannot, do as an organization or an individual.

Yes your museum can…

  • Register people to vote! Do nonpartisan voter registration, including voter registration drives and providing federal and state voter registration forms
  • Do nonpartisan voter education: inform voters, staff, visitors, and volunteers about the how, when, and where of voting, including sharing information on voter registration, early and absentee voting, election dates and voting deadlines, polling places, ID requirements, and links to candidate and voter information
  • Participate in nonpartisan Get Out the Vote activities and publicize Election Day
  • Allow any / all candidates or elected officials to rent your space for a campaign or other event (at fair-market value and with equal availability to all candidates, parties, and elected officials)
  • Ask all candidates in a given race to fill out an unbiased questionnaire about issues related to your mission
  • Support or oppose a ballot measure, for example a ballot initiative to set aside 1% of sales tax for cultural organizations, within IRS lobbying rules and state law
  • Host a nonpartisan candidates forum that includes all viable candidates and parties participating in a given race
  • Make all candidates aware of your organization’s mission
  • Allow staff to participate in a campaign on their own time
  • Continue ongoing issue advocacy in an election year

No your museum can’t…

  • Allow museum staff or volunteers to use organization computers, supplies, telephones, email, fax, or other facilities, resources and supplies in support of any candidate or party
  • Treat any candidate or party differently from all other candidates or parties
  • Invite only specific candidate(s) to the museum, or hold candidate discussions on only a single issue
  • Tell people whom to vote for in any form or fashion
  • Register only those supporting or opposing any particular candidate or party
  • Only allow certain candidates or parties to rent the space, or donate your space or provide a discounted rate for your space to only some candidates or parties
  • Make an organizational monetary, or in-kind, donation to any candidate or party or use organizational time or resources to solicit staff, volunteers or others to make a monetary or in-kind donation to any candidate or party
  • Allow staff or volunteers to volunteer for a candidate or party on organization time
  • Share information favorable to or in opposition of a particular candidate or party
  • Ask only some or specific candidates to fill out a candidate questionnaire, or draft or publish a candidate questionnaire in a manner that implies “correct” responses or indicates the candidates or positions with which the organization agrees

See AAM’s full Nonprofit Voter Resources for information on how organizations can continue to interact with candidates and elected officials during an election year.

Yes you as an individual can…

  • Participate in a campaign on your own time
  • Write a personal check to support a candidate or party
  • Donate personal funds or resources to a candidate or party
  • Be an enthusiastic supporter of a particular candidate or party in your personal capacity (not representing or in affiliation with your museum or organization in any way)
  • Decorate your home or apartment with campaign or candidate-related items
  • Volunteer with a campaign on your personal time, in your personal capacity (not representing or in affiliation with your museum or organization in any way)
  • Participate in Get Out the Vote activities and publicize Election Day
  • Participate in efforts to support or oppose ballot measures

No you as an individual can’t…

  • Participate in a campaign, or actively support or oppose a candidate or party, on museum or organization time
  • Use office facilities, computers, supplies, telephones, email, fax, or other supplies or resources in support of or opposition to any candidate or party
  • Wear a candidate’s or party’s t-shirt, buttons, hats, etc., in your museum or organization or at official events
  • Decorate your office space with items that are, or may be perceived as, supporting or opposing particular candidates or political parties
  • Volunteer for a candidate, party, or campaign on organization time
  • Tell colleagues or visitors whom to voter for or to support or oppose any candidate or party while on organization time

On Election Day

Nonprofits have an important civic role to play on Election Day. Here is information about what your museum can and cannot do to get involved.

Yes Your Museum Can…

  • Encourage staff and visitors to vote
  • Allow staff late arrival/early departure for voting
  • Allow staff to serve as a nonpartisan election worker on organization time
  • Allow staff to use personal leave time on Election Day (to use as they wish)
  • Provide information on early and absentee voting, location of polling places and polling hours, ID requirements, links to candidate and voter information, and voting rights information for voters, including voters’ rights on Election Day and numbers to call for help voting on Election Day
  • Include Election Day as an organization-wide holiday
  • Congratulate re-elected or newly elected officials
  • Serve as a polling place on Election Day

No Your Museum Can’t…

  • Tell employees or visitors who to vote for
  • Favor any candidate or party in any way
  • Allow late arrival/early departure for campaign work
  • Allow staff to participate in a political campaign on organization time
  • Allow staff to use organization supplies, facilities, or resources in support of or opposition to any candidate or party
  • Make people participate in Election Day activities
  • Make staff participate in any campaign or party-related activities
  • 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 is always recommended to consult your own legal counsel with specific questions about you or your museum’s activities.

 

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