Candidate Education - Alliance for Justice

Candidate Education


Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort, Leslie Barnes, Victor Rivera Labiosa


Election season provides a great opportunity for nonprofits and foundations to elevate their issues with voters and candidates. On this episode we’re going to look at ways a variety of tax-exempt entities can engage in outreach to candidates and engage with political parties. We’ll look at ways nonprofits can attend political party conventions, help shape candidate and party platforms, educate candidates on community issues, respond to candidate questions, and more. 

Our Lawyers for This Episode:

Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort Leslie Barnes Victor Rivera Labiosa

Quick Overview

  • 501(c)(3) public charities can educate candidates on community issues. They can engage with candidates during in-person visits, phone calls, issue briefings, etc. 
    • Just remember, public charities must remain nonpartisan in their outreach by trying to ensure that each candidate is provided with identical or equivalent communications. 
    • Also note that if the candidate is an incumbent legislator, communication with them could be lobbying if you express a view on specific legislation. 
  • Not only can 501(c)(3) public charities proactively reach out to candidates to share information about their missions and research, but they can also respond to candidates questions. But there are a few things to keep in mind. 
    • The 501(c)(3) should treat candidates as they would other members of the public. For example, if a candidate calls for any data, you can point that candidate to your website just like you would with anyone else. The important thing is that you are not compiling data just for the candidate or their campaign and that you’re not conducting new research because a candidate requests it. This could be considered a candidate contribution. 
      • Take care not to serve as a policy strategist or research arm of the campaign. Remember, the 501(c)(3) should be careful about allowing its name to be used by the candidate’s campaign. 
    • We recommend as a best practice to designate an experienced staff member to talk with candidates. 
  • 501(c)(3) public charities can shape candidate and political party platforms and encourage candidates and political parties to talk about the issues. 
    • Take care not to praise or criticize a candidate that adopts your organization’s policy issues. 
    • To keep things nonpartisan, include a disclaimer in oral and written testimony that information is being provided for educational purposes only. 
  • 501(c)(4)s can engage in some partisan activity (support or opposition of candidates), but should be aware of FEC and other state laws prohibiting corporate campaign contributions.
    • (c)(4)s cannot coordinate strategy with federal candidates. 
    • (c)(4)s may be able to work with state and local candidates in about half of all states by following state campaign finance laws. 
    • Not all outreach and engagement amounts to a contribution – keeping it nonpartisan as part of your primary purpose.