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What types of civic activities are permissible for non-profits?

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The California Catholic Conference of Bishops has prepared instruction on political advocacy for use by Catholic clergy and parishioners. Download an English or Spanish brochure that describes acceptable activities such as voter registration drives and issue-oriented forums.

The Church can engage in some activities and still adhere to the IRS’ tax-exempt guidelines. “Catholic organizations may lobby and attempt to influence legislation at the federal, state and local levels without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status, as long as those activities are not a substantial (as defined by the IRS) part of the organization’s total activities,” according to the USCCB Office of General Counsel (www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/upload/USCCB-PACI-Guide-2015.pdf).

Churches and Catholic organizations can educate candidates about particular issues and educate voters about issues, as long as these activities are conducted in an unbiased manner. Their campuses may also serve as polling places and they may sponsor voter registration and “get-out-the-vote” drives. Again, the IRS’ caveat in all these instances is that there is no bias toward or against any particular candidate or political party.

“Churches and religious organizations may involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, churches may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status” (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs- pdf/p1828.pdf).

Because the tax-exempt status allows the Church to be more effective in its stewardship of the donations provided to its organizations, it is always wise to consult with your diocesan legal counsel before engaging in political activity of any kind.

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