IS Opposes Lifting Ban on Endorsements of Political Candidates

Independent Sector has expressed strong opposition to a recent report issued by a group of religious leaders calling for an end to the decades-old ban on explicit endorsements of political candidates by clergy, the NonProfit Times reports.

In a statement issued last week, IS president and CEO Diana Aviv said that the coalition of nonprofits was "deeply troubled" by the report, Government Regulation of Political Speech by Religious and Other 501(c)(3) Organizations (94 pages, HTML), which argues, among other things, that the ban on political activity by 501(c)(3) organizations, including religious organizations, serves to curtail free speech. "Allowing the endorsement of political candidates, as this report calls for, is tantamount to allowing political agents to use the public's goodwill towards the charitable sector as a vehicle to advance, through financial contributions, their own partisan political will," wrote Aviv. "Such action would drag the charitable sector into the morass of political activity, driving a nail into the coffin of its integrity and credibility."

In an interview with the NonProfit Times, Aviv said, "While we agree with the commission that there is no clarity in this area, the solution is not to gut everything....This actually contaminates our advocacy work." Aviv also said she declined an invitation to be part of an advisory panel for the report because of concerns about how much influence, if any, panel members would have over the final report and whether she would be able to present a dissenting opinion. According to the NonProfit Times, Aviv was told by several panel members that they were required to pledge that they would not comment on the report after it was released.

Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which established the commission that created the report, told the NonProfit Times that commission and panel members were free to share their views through any number of channels, including position papers published on the commission's Web site, and added that panel members had been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement with respect to the commission's proceedings prior to the release of the report.

Independent Sector does agree with the commission's contention that current IRS regulations are vague and should be clarified and has aligned itself with the Bright Lines Project, an effort launched in 2009 by the Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch) to develop a regulatory framework designed to provide clarity to the rules for tax-exempt organizations. "IS has already spoken out in favor of requiring 501(c)(4) organizations engaged in political activity to disclose publicly their donors if their funds are being used for political activity," Aviv said in her statement. "What we need are clearer boundaries, not for the existing ones to be torn down."