Two Years After Citizen’s United, 501(c)(4)s in Legal Limbo

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September 2012; Source: The Connection (Bolder Advocacy)

Here at the Nonprofit Quarterly, we have been reporting on the fallout from the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision for two years. Bolder Advocacy has just released its new edition of The Connection (PDF available here), which provides a best practices guide for navigating lobbying and political activity restrictions for 501(c)(3)s and 501(c)(4)s, just in time for the last six weeks until the federal election. The publication is a great guide, with good examples and cases. It is sure to make the course list in many public administration and nonprofit courses this fall and to sit on the conference tables in many a 501(c)(4) board meeting.

However, what is most notable throughout this publication is how much we still don’t have settled for 501(c)(4)s two years after the Citizen’s United decision. This is because the Federal Election Commission has failed to update its codes for 501(c)(4)s. Here is a small sampling of the questions raised by the report:

  • How should 501(c)(4) contributions to a Super PAC be treated?
  • Are get-out-the-vote drives that include both express advocacy and transportation to the polls allowable under the Citizen’s United ruling?
  • What degree of coordination (if any) is allowable with campaigns and candidates when 501(c)(4)s help to bring the events with candidates to a targeted public?

These unknowns may be particularly troublesome for an IRS that has been under pressure to scrutinize 501(c)(4) political activity in the wake of Citizen’s United. The guide in The Connection is a fresh reminder that many 501(c)(4)s are left to operate in legal limbo when engaging in these activities. –Michelle Shumate