Convening and Commenting on Debates



Our attorneys for this episode:

Tim MooneyJen Powis Quyen Tu


  • Public charity 501(c)(3)s can educate candidates and voters. 
  • Many debates are run by 501(c)(3)s. 
    • Example: Commission on Presidential Debates is a 501(c)(3) public charity 

  • Remember 501(c)(3)s cannot support or oppose candidates. 
  • Nonprofits can host debates as an opportunity to educate voters 
    • Candidate education 
    • Host a debate with a coalition 
    • Invite all viable candidates (what is viable) 
    • Prepare questions prior, and ensure an adequate moderator 
    • No candidate pledges


  • Nonprofits can respond to things said in debates 
    • Fact-checking is ok, but not support/opposition to candidates 
    • Be consistent in your language.

  • Consistency and a track record are key. 
  • Best practices: 
    • Think through why responding now helps its advocacy program, 
    • Determine who is permitted to “speak on behalf of the organization,”
    • Focus on what is said (the issue) and not the candidates themselves, and 
    • Ensure that the facts provided meet the above objectives. 
    • Example: Southern Poverty Law Center (c3) responding to President Trump’s comment about the “Proud Boys”