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Non-Profit News Organizations Can't Publish Political “Hit” Stories, Says The IRS

Non-Profit News Organizations Can't Publish Political “Hit” Stories, Says The IRS - Video

Remember the Oaklandside posts that attacked black Oakland election candidates like Oakland Mayoral Candidate Seneca Scott this year and Oakland City Council At-Large seat campaigner Derreck Johnson in 2020? Oakland Readers should be aware that the Oaklandside, typically considered an “ultra-left” news publication, is owned by Cityside, which calls itself a “nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization committed to building community through local journalism”. Well, the IRS specifically prohibits the kind of character assasination posts against blacks in Oakland politics that the Oaklandside prints and calls “journalism”. In it's “The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations” (, the Internal Revenue Service writes the following: Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides, voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention. “Reporters Committee” has a “Nonprofit News Guide” which says Nonprofits that receive tax-exempt status under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are prohibited from participating or intervening in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” A tax-exempt nonprofit news organization that endorses a candidate for political office, a function routinely performed by news outlets, runs the risk of losing its federal tax-exempt status. The Internal Revenue Code further prohibits §501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofits from devoting a substantial part of their activities to attempting to influence legislation. The Non Profit Law Blog is also clear that non-profit news organizations can't influence readers for or against a particular candidate: Unlike their for-profit counterparts, nonprofit news organizations are limited in the amount of their lobbying activities and prohibited from intervening in political campaigns. The lobbying limitation, however, allows for generous amounts of lobbying, particularly if the organization has made the 501(h) election, and does not restrict other forms of advocacy. On the other hand, the political campaign intervention prohibition strictly prohibits activities such as endorsing candidates for public office, making campaign contributions in support of such candidates, and otherwise using organizational assets to preferentially support certain candidates and/or political parties over others. It’s very common for news organizations to support specific bills and to publish opinion pieces with a view on such proposed legislation. While a nonprofit news organization need not avoid such activities, they will need to track such activities for reporting purposes and ensure that they have not exceeded the permissible threshold. News organizations also endorse political candidates and otherwise express views that may influence elections. Nonprofit news organization may not make such endorsements and must be careful in avoiding partisan political activities that may be considered electioneering. Such problematic activities include publishing pieces on certain wedge issues in a partisan manner, particularly immediately before an election, even if such pieces do not explicitly endorse or even name a particular candidate. Recently, Oaklandside tried to tie Oakland Mayoral Election candidate Ignacio De La Fuente with what it called “Oakland Coal” interests, as if to imply the people it named were of bad character. From how many interpret IRS law, what Oaklandside did was illegal. Stay tuned.
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