Proposed IRS Regulations for 501(c)(4) Political Activities (2013)

In November 2013, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations, which put forth guidance and more definitive rules on political activity for 501(c)(4) organizations. The proposal stipulates that the promotion of social welfare does not include “candidate-related political activity,” defined as any communications expressly advocating for a clearly identified political candidate, as well as those communications made within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) that identify a candidate or political party, among other items. Also included in the new definition of candidate-related political activity are voter registration events and “get out the vote” drives.

Latest News
House, Senate bills would delay rulemaking for 501(c)(4) political activity
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL) introduced legislation (H.R. 599) on January 29 that would prohibit the IRS from issuing, revising, or finalizing any changes to the standards for determining whether 501(c)(4) applicants are operating exclusively for the promotion of social welfare. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Finance Committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced a companion bill (S. 283) in the upper chamber the same day. The Senate and House measures set the expiration date for the proposed prohibition in February and December 2017, respectively.

New 501(c)(4) political activity rules expected in Spring 2015

After confirming in May 2014 that a second draft of regulations for the political activity of 501(c)(4) social welfare groups is forthcoming, the IRS said in January 2015 that the revamp is likely to be released near the end of the first quarter in 2015, followed by a public hearing and comment period. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen expects the new proposal to address three questions: what should the definition of political activity be, to whom should it apply, and in how much political activity can an organization engage before jeopardizing its tax exemption.

IS Position and Action

Following the long-awaited release of proposed rulemaking for 501(c)(4)s engaged in politics in November 2013, the IS Board of Directors endorsed three principles for policy decisions affecting exempt organizations' political activities. Additionally, IS President and CEO Diana Aviv brought public attention to the flaws in the IRS proposal by co-authoring detailed editorial pieces in both the Washington Post and the Chronicle of Philanthropy in December.

On January 10, 2014 IS hosted a sector-wide webinar, featuring insights from Diana Aviv, legal experts and nonprofit leaders about the specific details of the proposed rules and their potential impact on 501(c)(3) public charities and other exempt organizations. The discussion highlighted alternative proposals, offered a strategy for nonprofit partners to respond to the regulations, and answered many participants' questions. Watch the webinar | View the slides

With the close of the public comment period on February 27, 2014, Diana Aviv voiced the concerns of the charitable sector in a Congressional hearing focused on the proposed regulations. A diverse group of more than 100 organizations had joined Independent Sector’s comments on the proposal, which were submitted to the IRS earlier that day. In total, the IRS received more than 169,000 comments, including those from organizations such as the Bright Lines Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation. The vast majority of these comments shared concerns about the proposal.

Bright Lines Project

Independent Sector endorses the Bright Lines Project, an effort to clarify the rules for exempt organizations' political activity. In response to the proposed IRS regulations, a team of legal experts developed a regulatory proposal that provides a predictable and simple way to help nonprofits identify what is and is not permissible political activity. It protects free speech and encourages Americans to get involved in civic engagement work while still preventing abuse of the political system. The Bright Lines Project invited organizations to use their model comment when drafting their own submissions to the IRS on the proposed guidance released in November 2013.


113th Congress
On January 14, 2014, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced legislation that would prohibit for one year the IRS and the Treasury Department from issuing or finalizing any regulations addressing the activities of 501(c)(4) tax exempt organizations. Chairman Camp described the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014 (H.R. 3865) as a reaction to proposed IRS regulations that would stifle the First Amendment rights of 501(c)(4) organizations. In a press release, he noted that the Committee’s investigation into the IRS scrutiny of exempt organizations from 2010 to 2012 is ongoing, and some Republican lawmakers signaled their belief that the proposed regulations are premature. The bill passed the House on February 25, 2014 and is unlikely to advance in the Senate.

In the Senate, Finance Committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) echoed the call for a one-year delay on February 11, 2014 by introducing a companion bill (S. 2011) in the upper chamber with 38 Republican cosponsors.


Proposed IRS Regulations (PDF)

IS Principles on 501(c)(4) Electoral Campaign Activity (December 2012)

IS Principles on Political Activity (December 2013)

The Bright Lines Project

Independent Sector's Comments

Senate PSI recommendations to IRS (September 2014)

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