Can a 501c3 Advocate for Impeachment of a Federal Office Holder?
Published in Nonprofit Quarterly
On September 24, 2019, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, prompting a national debate some 501c3s may wish to join. While the IRS gives no direct guidance on what 501c3 public charities can do or say to support or oppose impeachment, there are related laws that speak to possible risks.
501c3 public charities are able to engage in a limited amount of lobbying but are strictly prohibited from engaging in any activity that suggests support or opposition for a candidate for public office. Although there is no direct IRS precedent on this, calling for the impeachment or resignation of an elected public official is probably permissible for 501c3 public charities as long as they do not comment on who should be elected to succeed the ousted official. Since a vote of a legislative body is required, the activity would likely be treated as lobbying, counting toward the 501c3’s lobbying limits.
But—and this is a big but—if the impeached official is running for elected office during the impeachment inquiry or trial, as is the case with President Donald Trump, the 501c3 should consider all of the facts and circumstances to avoid looking like it is supporting or opposing a candidate for public office.