Thursday, May 29, 2014
Over 2 years ago, we blogged about a unique lawsuit being filed by Z Street, a pro-Israel nonprofit corporation, against the IRS. Specifically, Z Street alleged that the IRS's "Israel Special Policy” utilized in reviewing the organization's application for Section 501(c)(3) status violated the organization's First Amendment rights in that the IRS policy constituted viewpoint discrimination. Z Street requested an injunction compelling the IRS to disclose the policy and its parameters and usage, and to refrain from such use in evaluating the organization's exemption application.
In a May 27 decision, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the IRS's motion to dismiss the organization's complaint on all 3 grounds. The IRS presented three legal arguments that the Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the organization's constitutional claim. First, the IRS argued that the Anti-Injunction Act (“AIA”), 26 U.S.C. § 7421 (2013), precluded the Court from exercising jurisdiction. Second, it asserted that the Court could not grant the relief sought by the organization under the Declaratory Judgment Act (“DJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2201 (2013). Finally, the IRS argued that Z Street's complaint was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. In addition, the IRS asserted that Z Street failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because the organization has an adequate remedy at law (namely, 26 U.S.C. §7428), thereby foreclosing the equitable relief that it sought. Because the Court rejected the IRS's "core contention" that Z Street sought a determination on its eligibility for Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, the Court rejected the IRS's assertions that the AIA, the DJA, or sovereign immunity barred the organization's request for equitable relief and that Z Street had an adequate remedy at law.
With respect to the remedies sought by Z Street, Judge Ketanji Brown specifically acknowledged:
In this regard, looking at the requested remedy as the D.C. Circuit requires, Z Street’s complaint requests only two things: (1) a declaration that the Israel Special Policy violates the First Amendment, and (2) an injunction that requires disclosure of information regarding the Israel Special Policy, bars the IRS from subjecting Z Street’s application for Section 501(c)(3) status to the Israel Special Policy, and that mandates that Z Street’s application be adjudicated “fairly” and “expeditiously.”
In the opinion's conclusion, Judge Brown opines:
Defendant [IRS] struggles mightily to transform a lawsuit that clearly challenges the constitutionality of the process that the IRS allegedly employs when it determines the tax-exempt status of certain organizations into a dispute over tax liability as a means of attempting to thwart this action's advancement,” Jackson said. “But the instant complaint, which in no way seeks an assessment of the taxes to be paid or even a determination of the Plaintiff's Section 501(c)(3) status, is not so easily deterred.
(Hat tip: Daily Tax Report)
The IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Advisory Committee will hold a public meeting on June 11, 2014 with respect to significant issues affecting such entities. Per the May 28th Federal Register notice, the meeting will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the main IRS building on 1111 Constitution Avenue., N.W. , Washington, D.C., Room 3313.
Issues to be addressed include:
- Preapproved and determination letter programs;
- Unrelated business income tax compliance of colleges and universities;
- Government employees and the Affordable Care Act;
- IRS tribal consultation and compliance audit improvements; and
- Tax-exempt bonds and increased reliance on the facts-and-circumstances test to analyze management contracts.
Friday, May 23, 2014
As reported in multiples news sources (e.g., the NY Times, Reuters, and Business Week), the IRS has announced that it will likely revise proposed regulations addressing the political activities of section 501(c)(4) entities. Here is the text of the official announcement from the IRS:
Last November, Treasury and the IRS proposed a new regulation governing political activity of section 501(c)(4) organizations. The proposal generated over 150,000 written comments — the most comments ever received by Treasury and IRS on a proposed tax regulation. Consistent with our standard rulemaking process, we intend to review those comments carefully, take into account public feedback, and consider any necessary changes. Consistent with what Commissioner Koskinen has previously stated, it is likely that we will make some changes to the proposed regulation in light of the comments we have received. Given the diversity of views expressed and the volume of substantive input, we have concluded that it would be more efficient and useful to hold a public hearing after we publish the revised proposed regulation. Treasury and the IRS remain committed to providing updated standards for tax-exemption that are fair, clear, and easier to administer.
Friday, May 9, 2014
The National Association of State Charity Officials has submitted comments to the Treasury Department objecting to the proposed IRS Form 1023-EZ. The form would permit certain types of nonprofits with relatively low expected annual revenues and total assets to submit a streamlined application for recognition of exemption under IRC § 501(c)(3). NASCO reiterated concerns expressed in the 2012 Report of Recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT), in which ACT recommended against the development of such form because it viewed any benefits from doing so as being "outweighed by the loss of educational value to the applying organization and the loss of effectiveness to the IRS."
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
A year ago this week (or 362 days ago, according to Paul Caron) then IRS Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner apologized for the EO Division using criteria during the exemption application process that were "wrong," "incorrect," insensitive," and "inappropriate." We all know what has followed since those comments at the May 2013 ABA Tax Section meeting. Several recent developments are worth highlighting, however.
First, the IRS mess has become a political football disconnected from the facts of what actually happened. This result is illustrated not only by the recent Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Darrell Issa, Chairman) report and the recent Committee on Ways and Means (Dave Camp, Chairman) letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, both focusing on Ms. Lerner's alleged actions, but also by the often testy exchanges between members of the Ways and Means Committee as they debated the latter document in executive session a month ago before voting along party lines to refer the letter to the full House. This is not to say the exchanges were not without their lighter moments (including during the related open session Chairman Camp telling the Ranking Minority Member Sandy Levin "Just chill out." and Levin responding "I am very chilled out."). The contrasting views of the situation taken by the members on each side of aisle during the executive session illustrate how much political spin is now applied to accounts of this mess. (And later today the House Committee on Rules (Pete Sessions, Chairman) plans to take up a resolution that Ms. Lerner be held in contempt of Congress and a resolution calling for the appointment of special counsel.) (UPDATE: The political spin continues with a new report from Ranking Member Elijah Cummings of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform titled "No Evidence of White House Involvement or Political Motivation in IRS Screening of Tax-Exempt Applicants.")
Second, the issue of what information relating to tax-exempt organizations is and should be protected from public disclosure by obscure Internal Revenue Code section 6103 has become a hot topic. ProPublica reports that the nonprofit Freedom Path recently sued the IRS over its alleged treatment by the agency, with the most viable claim likely relating to the IRS' mistaken release of the organization's pending exemption application to ProPublica in alleged violation of section 6103. The Ways and Means letter discussed above also raises concerns under section 6103, asserting that Ms. Lerner may have risked violating this section by having confidential information sent to her personal email account (although even the Wall Street Journal feels that claim is a bit of a stretch).
Ironically, there are concerns that by making its letter and related exhibits public Ways and Means may itself have violated section 6103 (see Did Ways and Means' EO Data Dump Break the Law? in Tax Notes Today (subscription required)). I think Ways and Means did not violate section 6103, essentially for the reasons stated in advice the Committee apparently received on this issue. At the same time, I also think the public release of the exhibits creates a dangerous precedent, especially since it was not done, as the advice recommended, in a collegial fashion as reflected by unanimous consent or vote.
Relatedly, George Yin (UVA) has proposed increasing the amount of information the IRS can release relating to tax-exempt organizations in order to both enhance public trust and help counter allegations of wrongdoing by the agency. In Reforming (and Saving) the IRS by Respecting the Public's Right to Know, he argues for removing the protections of section 6103 for exemption applications and materials as soon as they are filed with the IRS and relaxing those protections for audit developments, closing agreements, and final determinations.
Third and finally, this mess is sparking useful discussions regarding not only the appropriate role of the IRS and the federal tax laws with respect to political activity, but also with respect to oversight of tax-exempt organizations more generally. While it is not clear if the proposed new section 501(c)(4) regulations relating to political activity will go anywhere (see earlier post on this blog by Darryll Jones), if there is any silver lining to this mess it is that it may lead to some constructive debates on the hard issues relating to IRS oversight of exempt organizations.
Friday, April 25, 2014
Earlier this week the Treasury Department released its Third Quarter Update for the 2013-2014 Priority Guidance Plan. Here are the items listed in the Exempt Organizations section:
- Revenue Procedures updating grantor and contributor reliance criteria under §§170 and 509.
- Revenue Procedure to update Revenue Procedure 2011-33 for EO Select Check.
- Guidance under §501(c)(4) relating to measurement of an organization's primary activity and whether it is operated primarily for the promotion of social welfare, including guidance relating to political campaign intervention. PUBLISHED 11/29/13 in FR as REG-134417-13 (NPRM).
- Final regulations under §§501(r) and 6033 on additional requirements for charitable hospitals as added by §9007 of the ACA. Proposed regulations were published on June 26, 2012 and April 5, 2013.
- Additional guidance on §509(a)(3) supporting organizations (SOs). PUBLISHED 01/06/14 in IRB 2014-2 as NOT. 2014-4 (RELEASED 12/23/13).
- Guidance under §4941 regarding a private foundation's investment in a partnership in which disqualified persons are also partners.
- Final regulations under §4944 on program-related investments. Proposed regulations were published on April 19, 2012.
- Guidance regarding the new excise taxes on donor advised funds and fund management as added by §1231 of the Pension Protection Act of 2006.
- Regulations under §§6011 and 6071 regarding the return and filing requirements for the §4959 excise tax for community health needs assessments failures by charitable hospitals as added by §9007 of the ACA. PUBLISHED 08/15/13 in FR as TD 9629 (FINAL and TEMP).
- Guidance under §6033 on returns of exempt organizations. PUBLISHED 01/13/14 in IRB 2014-3 as REV. PROC. 2014-11 (RELEASED 01/02/14).
- Final regulations under §6104(c). Proposed regulations were published on March 15, 2011.
- Final regulations under §7611 relating to church tax inquiries and examinations. Proposed regulations were published on August 5, 2009.
- Notice under §501(r) containing a proposed revenue procedure that provides correction and disclosure procedures under which certain failures to meet the requirements of §501(r) will be excused for purposes of §501(r)(1) and 501(r)(2)(B). PUBLISHED 01/13/14 in IRB 2014-3 as NOT. 2014-2 (RELEASED 12/30/13).
- Notice under §501(r) confirming that tax-exempt hospital organizations can rely on proposed regulations under § 501(r) published on June 26, 2012, and April 5, 2013, pending the publication of final regulations or other applicable guidance. PUBLISHED 01/13/14 in IRB 2014-3 as NOT. 2014-3 (RELEASED 12/30/13).
- Revenue Procedure revoking Revenue Procedure 79–6 (which provided for the use of certain United States Department of Labor forms in place of certain portions of the Form 990) because it is no longer consistent with Form 990 filing requirements. PUBLISHED 03/10/14 in IRB 2014-11 as REV. PROC. 2014-22.
Items 13 to 15 are identified as "additional projects" that did not appear in the initial plan issued last August, and item 15 is new to this update.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
An observant attorney noticed that Treasury and the IRS have submitted a short version of IRS Form 1023, the Application for Recognition of Exemption Under IRC § 501(c)(3), for review by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act. The Form 1023-EZ would be a streamlined, two-page form that the IRS estimates approximately 17 percent of applicants could use instead of the current, much longer Form 1023 (see the supporting statement filed with OMB). The draft instructions for the new form state that the form would only be available to organizations that expect to be relatively small financially (no more than $200,000 in annual gross receipts and no more than $500,000 in total assets) and are not churches, schools, hospitals, supporting organizations, or a number of other rarer types of 501(c)(3) groups. This would appear to make the form available only for small organizations that do not qualify by virtue of their activities as public charities, that is small organizations that are either private foundations or publicly supported.
Interestingly, the National Taxpayer Advocate in her 2007 Annual Report to Congress (see item 6 on page II-3 of the Executive Summary) recommended a separate Form 1023-EZ for use by smaller organizations. The recommendation, however, would have only made the shorter form available to non-private foundations with annual gross receipts not normally more than $25,000. (See Volume I, Section Two, page 535 of the full report.)
Hat Tip: Charles ("Chip") Watkins
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
One of the few beneficial effects of the faux scandal regarding the IRS' treatment of 501(c)(4) entities is likely to be public access to lots of stuff that would otherwise not be accessible. Stuff that might be useful for someone teaching or writing about charities, social welfare organizations and political activity. For instance, you can find almost the entire case file pertaining to Americans for Responsible Leadership's application for tax exemption here. For those of us who are not in the trenches often enough (or maybe don't have a life!), this actually makes for interesting reading.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Try as I might, I can't satisfactorily articulate the logical nexus between the decision that D-one college football players are not really students just playing football after classes but instead full blown employees who go to class after work and the argument that D-one football teams are not just student groups furthering the educational misssion of a tax exempt organization but instead very big business. The only thing one has to do with the other is that there are legal fictions on both sides of the comparisons. As in "student athletes are to employment as D-one college football teams are to professional football leagues?" Another problem is that the NFL, too, is tax exempt. A bill was recently introduced in the House and the Senate to strip the NFL, MLB, and NHL of their exempt status. The bill has a snowball's chance so I won't even go back and find the link. But somehow when I read the opinion -- the campus lives of our Saturday afternoon heros makes interesting reading -- I got the feeling that that exposing the myth of the student athelete somehow also exposes the myth of amatuer [nonprofit and tax exempt] competition. I think the parties were cognizant of this issue. The football players' brief takes issue with the whole concept of amateurism and the notion that the concept requires that the players not be treated as employees. In fact, the brief explicitly accuses the University of just trying to protect its profits. Northwestern's brief takes the contrary view, arguing that D-one football is all about education and amateur athletics and therefore the students should not be treated as employees, lest the charitable goals be sacrificed. Northwestern stresses that college football is an "avocation" not a "vocation." I have only skimmed the briefs, actually, but neither side explicitly or directly addressed the fundamental problem -- the whole idea that we are purportedly dealing with charitable organizations pursuing something other than profit. Even the description of the lives of college football players calls to mind something other than amateur athletics:
The first week in August, the scholarship and walk-on players begin their football season with a month-long training camp, which is considered the most demanding part of the season. In training camp (and the remainder of the calendar year), the coaching staff prepares and provides the players with daily itineraries that detail which football-related activities they are required to attend and participate in. The itineraries likewise delineate when the players are to eat their meals and receive any necessary medical treatment. For example, the daily itinerary for the first day of training camp in 2012 shows that the athletic training room was open from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. so the players could receive medical treatment and rehabilitate any lingering injuries. Because of the physical nature of football, many players were in the training room during these hours. At the same time, the players had breakfast made available to them at the N Club. From 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., any players who missed a summer workout (discussed below) or who were otherwise deemed unfit by the coaches were required to complete a fitness test. The players were then separated by position and required to attend position meetings from 8:30 am to 11:00 a.m. so that they could begin to install their plays and work on basic football fundamentals. The players were also required to watch film of their prior practices at this time. Following these meetings, the players had a walk-thru from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at which time they scripted and ran football plays. The players then had a one-hour lunch during which time they could go to the athletic training room, if they needed medical treatment. From 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., the players had additional meetings that they were required to attend. Afterwards, at 4:00 p.m., they practiced until team dinner, which was held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the N Club. The team then had additional position and team meetings for a couple of more hours. At 10:30 p.m., the players were expected to be in bed (“lights out”) since they had a full day of football activities and meetings throughout each day of training camp. After about a week of training camp on campus, the Employer’s football team made their annual trek to Kenosha, Wisconsin for the remainder of their training camp where the players continued to devote 50 to 60 hours per week on football related activities.
For a more direct discussion of the NCAA's status as a nonprofit, tax exempt organization fostering amatuer athletics, see this post providing a link to John Colombo's article on the topic.
Monday, March 24, 2014
In PLR 201412018 released March 21, 2014, the Service reiterated and unfortuntely continued its longstanding antipathy to granting (c)(3) status to HMOs. I will never understand the logic behind that antipathy. It is doing more harm than good. The basic reasoning is this: An organization that delivers health care to paying subscribers, directly or indirectly, does not confer a public benefit because it benefits its subscibers. The Service maintains this point even if the organization maintains a program whereby those unable to pay the subscription price can become members. Logically, membership, and especially membership combined with a subsidy for the poor who can't afford the membership fee, should lead to the exact opposite result. The membership characteristic of HMOs increases health care for everyone and thereby benefits the community.
The letter ruling concisely describes the three primary cases (Sound Health, IHC, Geisinger) comprising HMO/(c)(3) jurisprudence. That jurisprudence holds that a membership requirement is inherently inconsistent with health care charitable tax exemption. Presumably, a staff model HMO that provided health care services without requiring membership would be able to achieve charitable tax exempt status. The existence of a membership requirement-- no matter how large and accessibe the club -- turns what would be "public benefit" into "private benefit." The problem is that whatever benefit HMOs convey results ecisely from the membership requirement. The membership requirement is the sine qua non of HMOs. It allows an insurer to herd large groups of consumers with aggregate bargaining power. Membership means that subscribers will consume health care services only within network, giving the network itself bargaining power. That bargaining power is, in turn, wielded in a manner that holds costs down presumably resulting in more health care for everyone. This is all very simplified, I'm sure, but the point is that without a membership requirement there is no point to HMO's and their beneficial effect. To deny tax exempt status to HMO's based on the membership requirement is really to conclude that HMO's can never be tax exempt even though it is through HMO's that health care costs are better controlled and health care is rendered more accessible to everyone, including the poor. Hasn't the market proven this?
Ultimately, it is the membership requirement that increases the amount of health care to the community. The organization in Sound Health, by the way, was really just a hospital that also engaged in HMO activities as an insubstantial part of its activities. The court called it a "staff model HMO," meaning that it had doctors and other health care service providers on staff who provided health care to patients even if they were not part of the club. It is the hospital analog to the physician who makes house call. It calls to mind Rockwellian memories but is ultimately inefficient in the sense that it can never provide the most health care for the most people. The old way is too expensive and results in less health care to the community. The contract model HMO -- an insurer that brokers health services by connecting member/patients with health care service providers -- will ultimately provide more health care for more people. Tax exemption jurisprudence has the matter bass ackwards to the extent it affirms the inefficient staff model HMO with no membership requirement but condemns the contract model HMO with a membership requirement. There is more commmunity benefit in the latter than the former.
What is apparently confusing the Service is the reality that you can't have public benefit without private gain. The prevailing jurisprudence condemns HMOs because a defined group of people (the members) benefit, hence the terminal appellation "private benefit." But this ignores the world in which nonprofit entites necessarily exist. In a capitalist world, indeed in the natural world, someone must benefit in particular if everyone is to benefit in general. You can't have public benefit without private gain. In colleges and universities, for example, faculty must be paid and individual students must graduate if the community -- the public -- is to benefit in general from the production and consumption of knowledge. Public benefit derives from private gain. Without private benefit there can be no public benefit.
The continued insistence that HMO's can only be granted tax exemption in the complete absence of private gain is therefore oxymoronic. If tax exemption jurisprudence is based on expanding the health care pie so the community receives more rather than less health care, that jurisprudence needs to get rid of the notion that a membership requirement is inherently inconsistent with 501(c)(3) jurispurdence.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
The IRS issued proposed regulations relating to how much income 501(c)(9) voluntary employee beneficiary associations, 501(c)(17) supplemental employment benefit trusts, and 501(c)(20) group legal services organizations may set aside as exempt function income that is excluded from unrelated business taxable income and so exempt from the unrelated business income tax. While that exhausts my knowledge of the substance of the proposed regulations, what is striking is that the proposed regulations replace proposed regulations issued in 1986 to implement a 1984 statutory change. Affected groups have not been without guidance for all of this time - temporary regulations were issued in 1986 as well - but the fact that the guidance has yet to be finalized raises the question of what happened. Did the 1986 proposed regulation simply fall off someone's to do list? Did the employee taking the lead on these regulations retire? Of course, today the situation would have been more urgent because under 26 U.S.C. 7805(e), enacted in 1988, temporary regulations expire within three years after their date of issuance - but that provision did not apply retroactively to already issued temporary regulations.
Friday, February 7, 2014
According to TaxProf Blog we are now 274 days into the firestorm that erupted in the wake of Lois Lerner's acknowledgment last May that the IRS had used inappropriate criteria for selecting certain 501(c)(4) applications for additional scrutiny. The resulting controversy not only continues, but it has recently been renewed by another congressional hearing, controversial proposed regulations that are taking hits from both the left and the right, and cryptic legislation that may - or may not - change how and whether the IRS can enforce the existing limits on political activity by tax-exempt organizations.
House Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee Hearing
Yesterday a subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform held a hearing where the witnesses uniformly blasted the executive branch's handling of the controversy. Their views were not a surprise, given they are all individuals who have been vocal in their criticism of how the Obama administration has handled this situation. The subcommittee also invited DOJ trial attorney Barbara Bosserman, who is leading the DOJ's investigation into this matter, to testify, but she chose not to do so. Despite its one-sided nature, the hearing illustrates that the continuing drumbeat of criticism is not fading away, and is unlikely to do so given . . .
Controversial Proposed Regulations
While I and others have commented that one likely consequences of this mess is that the IRS will be gun shy for some time, particularly when it comes to enforcing the limits on political activity by tax-exempt organizations, the Treasury Department as a whole cannot be criticized for a lack of boldness. The regulations it proposed in late November to redefine what would be considered political activity (or rather "candidate-related political activity") for 501(c)(4) organizations have already generated over 22,000 comments, and the deadline for submitting comments is not until the end of this month. While many comments have been supportive in part, most appear to give mixed reviews.
Some of the most detailed and thoughtful comments to date include the ACLU Comments and the Center for Competitive Politics Comments (which appear on a webpage also gathering some other comments, including ones focused on the paperwork burden imposed by the proposed regulations). Other groups working on commetns that likely will be worth the read are the ABA Tax Section, the Alliance for Justice, Independent Sector, and a coalition that is being spearheaded by Cleta Mitchell (Foley & Lardner) and John Pomeranz (Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg). The Bright Lines Project has also created a model comment that any organization or individual can customize and and then submit. Finally, Rep. Dave Camp has introduced legislation that woudl block finalization of the proposed regulations for a year.
Buried in the recently enacted omnibus spending bill were 68 words that may - or may not - change how and whether the IRS can enforce the current and future limits on political activity by tax-exempt organizations. As reported by Mother Jones, Public Law 113-76 included in the section relating to the Internal Revenue Service the following provisions:
SEC. 107. None of the funds made available under this Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to target citizens of the United States for exercising any right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
SEC. 108. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to target groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs.
Given that the legislation did not repeal the limits on political activity found in section 501(c)(3) and the relevant charitable contribution provisions, nor did it explicitly address the current interpretation of section 501(c)(4) and other exemption provisions relating to political activity, to say the effect of these two provisions is unclear is to put it mildly. What is not unclear, however, is that these provision will provide an additional arrow for groups that challenge the IRS in court for denying exemption or examining them allegedly because of their political activity, so the courts will almost certainly need to resolve the actual effect of these provisions.
Tax Analysts recently forced the IRS to release thousands of pages of internal training materials for the exempt organizations determiniations unit. Included in the materials was a "Lesson Plan" on section 501(c)(4) organizations.
News outlets, and particularly the Washington Post, continue to publish accounts of how the Koch brothers created and funded a network of primarily tax-exempt organizations to further their political goals in previous election cycles. Recent articles include "Koch-Backed Political Coalition, Designed to Shield Donors, Raised $400 Million in 2012" and "A Rare Look Inside the Koch Brothers Political Empire".
There are a bevy of new leaders with in the Tax-Exempt/Government Entities Division at the IRS, including Sunita Lough (Commissioner, TE/GE), Donna Hansberry (Deputy Commissioner, TE/GE), Tammy Ripperda (Director, Exempt Organizations Division), and Robert Malone (Acting Director, Exempt Organizations Rulings & Agreements). They join continuing EO Division leaders Melaney Partner (Director, Exempt Organizations Customer Education & Outreach) and Nanette Downing (Director, Exempt Organizations Examinations).
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
In Revenue Procedure 2014-11, the IRS revised the procedures that organizations should use to apply for reinstatement of their tax-exempt status if they have lost that status because of a failure to file required information returns three years in a row. The IRS has also provided a summary of the new procedures, which includes a process by which smaller organizations that were only required to file the Form 990-EZ or Form 990-N and that submit a new application for recognition of exemption within 15 months will not need to have reasonable cause for the failure to file and will also avoid any late filing penalties. Other, more demanding processes are available for groups required to file Form 990 or Form 990-PF and for groups seeking retroative reinstatement more than 15 months after their automatic revocation. As always, groups can instead simply seek prospective reinstatement by filing the required application.
As part of the continuing guidance under Internal Revenue Code section 501(r), the IRS in Notice 2014-3 has proposed a revenue procedure that allows hospitals to retain their tax-exempt status for failures under that section as long as such failures were not willful or egregious and the hospital corrects and disclosures the failures as provided in the proposed revenue procedure. Correction must be promptly made after discovery of the failure at issue, must be reasonable and appropriate, and must retore each affected person to the extent reasonably feasible. Correction may also need to include establishing or modifying practices and procedures to prevent future failures. A hospital makes the required disclosure on Schedule H of its Form 990 for the year in which the failure is discovered.
In Notice 2014-4, the IRS provided guidance regarding how a Type III supporting organization can qualify as functionally integrated (the more favorable classification for this type of supporting organization under a variety of applicable tax rules) by supporting a governmental supported organization. More specifically, the notice provides that until final regulations are published or two or so years have passed (whichever occurs earlier), a Type III supporting organization will be treated as functionally integrated if it:
(1) Supports at least one supported organization that is a governmental entity to which the supporting organization is responsive within the meaning of § 1.509(a)–4(i)(3); and
(2) Engages in activities for or on behalf of the governmental supported organization described in paragraph (1) that perform the functions of, or carry out the purposes of, that governmental supported organization and that, but for the involvement of the supporting organization, would normally be engaged in by the governmental supported organization itself.
This guidance once again highlights the complexity of the supporting organization rules, which are also illustrated by the now out-dated flow chart provided above that the IRS prepared before the 2006 amendment of the relavent statutory provisions.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
With a big red floppy hat tip to the TaxProf Blog, this Forbes article brings tax geekiness to admirable new heights, as a tax lawyer tries to distract her children on Christmas Eve with a discussion of St. Nick's Form 1040-NR. Do read the whole thing, but for our purposes here on the Nonprofit Prof Blog, here's the fun part:
The kids are pretty sure – and I agree – that Santa doesn’t intend to operate as a for profit business. But he likely doesn’t meet the criteria to be tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. By default, that would make his venture for profit for purposes of IRS (whether he wants to make money or not) and therefore, taxable.
Even if Santa’s toy distribution scheme were to be classed as a non-profit, there may be other unrelated trade or business income… As noted earlier, my house isn’t sure where Santa gets his money. Clearly, he isn’t paid for his services though my kids question the value of cookies and milk left out for him (that is, as my seven year old noted, a LOT of cookies). Since we’ve seen a lot of Santa merchandise in stores, we’ve worked out that we think he gets some licensing revenue for his own image and also for Rudolph – kind of like Pixar does for Lightning McQueen and Buzz Lightyear. That income would be taxable to the extent that it’s not offset with expenses. So, assuming all of this, what’s deductible?
So here's my question, would Santa's operations qualify for Section 501(c)(3) status? I mean, clearly he could structure his licensing revenue as a royalty exempt from UBIT and even drop it into a for profit sub if need be. I don't really see an inurement or a private benefit issue - surely, all good kids in the world constitute a charitable class. He's not been lobbying as far as I know, so barring a big political endorsement, I'm not seeing the issue. So does Santa just need good nonprofit counsel?
Merry Christmas (a day late) to all who celebrate, and a joyous New Year to all.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
The Green Bay Press Gazette reports that a review of 51 active or recently closed charities tied to Wisconsin athletes and professional teams revealed a mix of compliance and noncompliance with IRS filing requirements, a broad range of fundraising costs and revenues, and other issues. For example, six of the charities have lost their tax-exempt status for failing to file the required annual return (Form 990) and several charities reported less than two-thirds of revenues going toward charitable activities (as low as 18 percent in one case), although in some cases that low percentage may reflect an intentional plan to build up reserves for a particular, future charitable purpose. The charities ranged in size from several with over a million dollars in annual revenue to 16 active charities with less than $50,000 in annual revenue. As noted in the story and detailed in separate USA Today report, the most prominent set of concerns may belong to the LeRoy Butler Foundation, which is currently the subejct of an IRS and federal grand jury investigation apparently stemming from its multi-year failure to file IRS returns and payments of "appearance fees" and provision of other benefits to its namesake. Overall, these reports appear to reveal a broad range of typical charity successes and failures among this subset of charities.
Friday, November 29, 2013
I'll admit it: I've been closely following the release of the proposed new Treasury regulations governing political advocacy of 501(c)(4) organizations. Today's Washington Post asserts that the new rules bring both clarity and confusion to a broken system. The Post's article begins by acknowleding that the rules governing the political activities of nonprofit advocacy groups is "an area of the tax code that has been crying out for greater clarity." According to the newspaper, while the "proposed regulation unvieled Tuesday by the Treasury Department draws the boundaries clearly," they "instantly kicked off intense debate about whether the lines are in the right place."
According to the Post,
One phrase in the official notice summed up the imperfect nature of the exercise. The new rules, the department said, "may be both more restrictive and more permissive than the current approach."
Notwithstanding the apparent confusion, the Post acknowledges what we all know: the system was broken and needed to be fixed.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Notices of Proposed Rulemaking, Proposed Amendments of Regulations (REG-134417-13), NPRM REG-134417-13, Internal Revenue Service, (Nov. 29, 2013)
Proposed Amendments of Regulations (REG-134417-13), published in the Federal Register on November 29, 2013.
[Code Sec 501]
Tax-exempt organizations: Social welfare organizations: Qualifications: Candidate-related political activity.–
Amendments of Reg. 1.501(c)(4)-1, providing guidance to tax-exempt social welfare organizations on political activities related to candidates that will not be considered to promote social welfare, are proposed. The text is at ¶22,610B.
AGENCY: Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Treasury.
ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking.
SUMMARY: This document contains proposed regulations that provide guidance to tax-exempt social welfare organizations on political activities related to candidates that will not be considered to promote social welfare. These regulations will affect tax-exempt social welfare organizations and organizations seeking such status. This document requests comments from the public regarding these proposed regulations. This document also requests comments from the public regarding the standard under current regulations that considers a tax-exempt social welfare organization to be operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare if it is “primarily” engaged in activities that promote the common good and general welfare of the people of the community, including how this standard should be measured and whether this standard should be changed.
DATES: Written or electronic comments and requests for a public hearing must be received by [INSERT DATE 90 DAYS AFTER PUBLICATION OF THIS DOCUMENT IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER].
ADDRESSES: Send submissions to: CC:PA:LPD:PR (REG-134417-13), Room 5205, Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 7604, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, DC 20044. Submissions may be hand-delivered Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to CC:PA:LPD:PR (REG-134417-13), Courier's Desk, Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC, or sent electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov (IRS REG-134417-13).
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Concerning the proposed regulations, Amy F. Giuliano at (202) 317-5800; concerning submission of comments and requests for a public hearing, Oluwafunmilayo Taylor at (202) 317-6901 (not toll-free numbers).
Paperwork Reduction Act
The collection of information contained in this notice of proposed rulemaking has been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for review in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3507(d)). Comments on the collection of information should be sent to the Office of Management and Budget, Attn: Desk Officer for the Department of the Treasury, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Washington, DC 20503, with copies to the Internal Revenue Service, Attn: IRS Reports Clearance Officer, SE:W:CAR:MP:T:T:SP, Washington, DC 20224. Comments on the collection of information should be received by [INSERT DATE 60 DAYS AFTER PUBLICATION OF THIS DOCUMENT IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER].
Comments are specifically requested concerning:
Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the IRS, including whether the information will have practical utility;
The accuracy of the estimated burden associated with the proposed collection of information;
How the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected may be enhanced; and
How the burden of complying with the proposed collection of information may be minimized, including through forms of information technology.
The collection of information in these proposed regulations is in §1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(iii)(D), which provides a special rule for contributions by an organization described in section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to an organization described in section 501(c). Generally, a contribution by a section 501(c)(4) organization to a section 501(c) organization that engages in candidate-related political activity will be considered candidate-related political activity by the section 501(c)(4) organization. The special rule in §1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(iii)(D) provides that a contribution to a section 501(c) organization will not be treated as a contribution to an organization engaged in candidate-related political activity if the contributor organization obtains a written representation from an authorized officer of the recipient organization stating that the recipient organization does not engage in any such activity and the contribution is subject to a written restriction that it not be used for candidate-related political activity. This special provision would not apply if the contributor organization knows or has reason to know that the representation is inaccurate or unreliable. The expected recordkeepers are section 501(c)(4) organizations that choose to contribute to, and to seek a written representation from, a section 501(c) organization.
Estimated number of recordkeepers: 2,000.
Estimated average annual burden hours per recordkeeper: 2 hours.
Estimated total annual recordkeeping burden: 4,000 hours.
A particular section 501(c)(4) organization may require more or less time, depending on the number of contributions for which a representation is sought.
An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a valid control number assigned by the Office of Management and Budget.
Books or records relating to a collection of information must be retained as long as their contents may become material in the administration of any internal revenue law. Generally, tax returns and return information are confidential, as required by section 6103.
Section 501(c)(4) of the Code provides a Federal income tax exemption, in part, for “[c]ivic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” This exemption dates back to the enactment of the federal income tax in 1913. See Tariff Act of 1913, 38 Stat. 114 (1913). The statutory provision was largely unchanged until 1996, when section 501(c)(4) was amended to prohibit inurement of an organization's net earnings to private shareholders or individuals.
Prior to 1924, the accompanying Treasury regulations did not elaborate on the meaning of “promotion of social welfare.” See Regulations 33 (Rev.), art. 67 (1918). Treasury regulations promulgated in 1924 explained that civic leagues qualifying for exemption under section 231(8) of the Revenue Act of 1924, the predecessor to section 501(c)(4) of the 1986 Code, are “those not organized for profit but operated exclusively for purposes beneficial to the community as a whole,” and generally include “organizations engaged in promoting the welfare of mankind, other than organizations comprehended within [section 231(6) of the Revenue Act of 1924, the predecessor to section 501(c)(3) of the 1986 Code].” See Regulations 65, art. 519 (1924). The regulations remained substantially the same until 1959.
The current regulations under section 501(c)(4) were proposed and finalized in 1959. They provide that “[a]n organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare if it is primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.” Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(i). An organization “embraced” within section 501(c)(4) is one that is “operated primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterments and social improvements.” Id. The regulations further provide that “[t]he promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii). This language is similar to language that appears in section 501(c)(3) requiring section 501(c)(3) organizations not to “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office” (“political campaign intervention”). However, unlike the absolute prohibition that applies to charitable organizations described in section 501(c)(3), an organization that primarily engages in activities that promote social welfare will be considered under the current regulations to be operating exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, and may qualify for taxexempt status under section 501(c)(4), even though it engages in some political campaign intervention.
The section 501(c)(4) regulations have not been amended since 1959, although Congress took steps in the intervening years to address further the relationship of political campaign activities to tax-exempt status. In particular, section 527, which governs the tax treatment of political organizations, was enacted in 1975 and provides generally that amounts received as contributions and other funds raised for political purposes (section 527 exempt function income) are not subject to tax. Section 527(e)(1) defines a “political organization” as “a party, committee, association, fund, or other organization (whether or not incorporated) organized and operated primarily for the purpose of directly or indirectly accepting contributions or making expenditures, or both, for an exempt function.” Section 527(f) also imposes a tax on exempt organizations described in section 501(c), including section 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, that make an expenditure furthering a section 527 exempt function. The tax is imposed on the lesser of the organization's net investment income or section 527 exempt function expenditures. Section 527(e)(2) defines “exempt function” as “the function of influencing or attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any individual to any federal, state, or local public office or office in a political organization, or the election of Presidential or Vice-Presidential electors” (referred to in this document as “section 527 exempt function”). 1
Unlike the section 501(c)(3) standard of political campaign intervention, and the similar standard currently applied under section 501(c)(4), both of which focus solely on candidates for elective public office, a section 527 exempt function encompasses activities related to a broader range of officials, including those who are appointed or nominated, such as executive branch officials and certain judges. Thus, while there is currently significant overlap in the activities that constitute political campaign intervention under sections 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) and those that further a section 527 exempt function, the concepts are not synonymous.
Over the years, the IRS has stated that whether an organization is engaged in political campaign intervention depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each case. See Rev. Rul. 78-248 (1978-1 CB 154) (illustrating application of the facts and circumstances analysis to voter education activities conducted by section 501(c)(3) organizations); Rev. Rul. 80-282 (1980-2 CB 178) (amplifying Rev. Rul. 78-248 regarding the timing and distribution of voter education materials); Rev. Rul. 86-95 (1986-2 CB 73) (holding a public forum for the purpose of educating and informing the voters, which provides fair and impartial treatment of candidates, and which does not promote or advance one candidate over another, does not constitute political campaign intervention under section 501(c)(3)). More recently, the IRS released Rev. Rul. 2007-41 (2007-1 CB 1421), providing 21 examples illustrating facts and circumstances to be considered in determining whether a section 501(c)(3) organization's activities (including voter education, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote drives; individual activity by organization leaders; candidate appearances; business activities; and Web sites) result in political campaign intervention. The IRS generally applies the same facts and circumstances analysis under section 501(c)(4). See Rev. Rul. 81-95 (1981-1 CB 332) (citing revenue rulings under section 501(c)(3) for examples of what constitutes participation or intervention in political campaigns for purposes of section 501(c)(4)).
Similarly, Rev. Rul. 2004-6 (2004-1 CB 328) provides six examples illustrating facts and circumstances to be considered in determining whether a section 501(c) organization (such as a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization) that engages in public policy advocacy has expended funds for a section 527 exempt function. The analysis reflected in these revenue rulings for determining whether an organization has engaged in political campaign intervention, or has expended funds for a section 527 exempt function, is factintensive.
Recently, increased attention has been focused on potential political campaign intervention by section 501(c)(4) organizations. A recent IRS report relating to IRS review of applications for tax-exempt status states that “[o]ne of the significant challenges with the 501(c)(4) [application] review process has been the lack of a clear and concise definition of ‘political campaign intervention.’” Internal Revenue Service, “Charting a Path Forward at the IRS: Initial Assessment and Plan of Action” at 20 (June 24, 2013). In addition, “[t]he distinction between campaign intervention and social welfare activity, and the measurement of the organization's social welfare activities relative to its total activities, have created considerable confusion for both the public and the IRS in making appropriate section 501(c)(4) determinations.” Id. at 28. The Treasury Department and the IRS recognize that both the public and the IRS would benefit from clearer definitions of these concepts.
Explanation of Provisions
The Treasury Department and the IRS recognize that more definitive rules with respect to political activities related to candidates - rather than the existing, fact-intensive analysis - would be helpful in applying the rules regarding qualification for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4). Although more definitive rules might fail to capture (or might sweep in) activities that would (or would not) be captured under the IRS' traditional facts and circumstances approach, adopting rules with sharper distinctions in this area would provide greater certainty and reduce the need for detailed factual analysis in determining whether an organization is described in section 501(c)(4). Accordingly, the Treasury Department and the IRS propose to amend Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2) to identify specific political activities that would be considered candidaterelated political activities that do not promote social welfare.
To distinguish the proposed rules under section 501(c)(4) from the section 501(c)(3) standard and the similar standard currently applied under section 501(c)(4), the proposed regulations would amend Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii) to delete the current reference to “direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” which is similar to language in the section 501(c)(3) statute and regulations. Instead the proposed regulations would revise Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii) to state that “[t]he promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect candidate-related political activity.” As explained in more detail in section 2 of this preamble, the proposed rules draw upon existing definitions of political campaign activity, both in the Code and in federal election law, to define candidate-related political activity that would not be considered to promote social welfare. The proposed rules draw in particular from certain statutory provisions of section 527, which specifically deals with political organizations and taxes section 501(c) organizations, including section 501(c)(4) organizations, on certain types of political campaign activities. Recognizing that it may be beneficial to have a more uniform set of rules relating to political campaign activity for tax-exempt organizations, the Treasury Department and the IRS request comments in subparagraphs a through c of this section of the preamble regarding whether the same or a similar approach should be adopted in addressing political campaign activities of other section 501(c) organizations, as well as whether the regulations under section 527 should be revised to adopt the same or a similar approach in defining section 527 exempt function activity.
a. Interaction with section 501(c)(3)
These proposed regulations do not address the definition of political campaign intervention under section 501(c)(3). The Treasury Department and the IRS recognize that, because such intervention is absolutely prohibited under section 501(c)(3), a more nuanced consideration of the totality of facts and circumstances may be appropriate in that context. The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on the advisability of adopting an approach to defining political campaign intervention under section 501(c)(3) similar to the approach set forth in these regulations, either in lieu of the facts and circumstances approach reflected in Rev. Rul. 2007-41 or in addition to that approach (for example, by creating a clearly defined presumption or safe harbor). The Treasury Department and the IRS also request comments on whether any modifications or exceptions would be needed in the section 501(c)(3) context and, if so, how to ensure that any such modifications or exceptions are clearly defined and administrable. Any such change would be introduced in the form of proposed regulations to allow an additional opportunity for public comment.
b. Interaction with section 527
As noted in the “Background” section of this preamble, a section 501(c)(4) organization is subject to tax under section 527(f) if it makes expenditures for a section 527 exempt function. Consistent with section 527, the proposed regulations provide that “candidate-related political activity” for purposes of section 501(c)(4) includes activities relating to selection, nomination, election, or appointment of individuals to serve as public officials, officers in a political organization, or Presidential or Vice Presidential electors. These proposed regulations do not, however, address the definition of “exempt function” activity under section 527 or the application of section 527(f). The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on the advisability of adopting rules that are the same as or similar to these proposed regulations for purposes of defining section 527 exempt function activity in lieu of the facts and circumstances approach reflected in Rev. Rul. 2004-6. Any such change would be introduced in the form of proposed regulations to allow an additional opportunity for public comment.
c. Interaction with sections 501(c)(5) and 501(c)(6)
The proposed regulations define candidate-related political activity for social welfare organizations described in section 501(c)(4). The Treasury Department and the IRS are considering whether to amend the current regulations under sections 501(c)(5) and 501(c)(6) to provide that exempt purposes under those regulations (which include “the betterment of the conditions of those engaged in [labor, agricultural, or horticultural] pursuits” in the case of a section 501(c)(5) organization and promoting a “common business interest” in the case of a section 501(c)(6) organization) do not include candidaterelated political activity as defined in these proposed regulations. The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on the advisability of adopting this approach in defining activities that do not further exempt purposes under sections 501(c)(5) and 501(c)(6). Any such change would be introduced in the form of proposed regulations to allow an additional opportunity for public comment.
d. Additional guidance on the meaning of “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare”
The Treasury Department and the IRS have received requests for guidance on the meaning of “primarily” as used in the current regulations under section 501(c)(4). The current regulations provide, in part, that an organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare within the meaning of section 501(c)(4) if it is “primarily engaged” in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community. Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(i). As part of the same 1959 Treasury decision promulgating the current section 501(c)(4) regulations, regulations under section 501(c)(3) were adopted containing similar language: “[a]n organization will be regarded as ‘operated exclusively’ for one or more exempt purposes only if it engages primarily in activities which accomplish one or more of such exempt purposes specified in section 501(c)(3).” Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(1). Unlike the section 501(c)(4) regulations, however, the section 501(c)(3) regulations also provide that “[a]n organization will not be so regarded if more than an insubstantial part of its activities is not in furtherance of an exempt purpose.” Id.
Some have questioned the use of the “primarily” standard in the section 501(c)(4) regulations and suggested that this standard should be changed. The Treasury Department and the IRS are considering whether the current section 501(c)(4) regulations should be modified in this regard and, if the “primarily” standard is retained, whether the standard should be defined with more precision or revised to mirror the standard under the section 501(c)(3) regulations. Given the potential impact on organizations currently recognized as described in section 501(c)(4) of any change in the “primarily” standard, the Treasury Department and the IRS wish to receive comments from a broad range of organizations before deciding how to proceed. Accordingly, the Treasury Department and the IRS invite comments from the public on what proportion of an organization's activities must promote social welfare for an organization to qualify under section 501(c)(4) and whether additional limits should be imposed on any or all activities that do not further social welfare. The Treasury Department and the IRS also request comments on how to measure the activities of organizations seeking to qualify as section 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations for these purposes.
2. Definition of Candidate-Related Political Activity
These proposed regulations provide guidance on which activities will be considered candidate-related political activity for purposes of the regulations under section 501(c)(4). These proposed regulations would replace the language in the existing final regulation under section 501(c)(4) - “participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office” - with a new term - “candidate-related political activity” - to differentiate the proposed section 501(c)(4) rule from the standard employed under section 501(c)(3) (and currently employed under section 501(c)(4)). The proposed rule is intended to help organizations and the IRS more readily identify activities that constitute candidate-related political activity and, therefore, do not promote social welfare within the meaning of section 501(c)(4). These proposed regulations do not otherwise define the promotion of social welfare under section 501(c)(4). The Treasury Department and the IRS note that the fact that an activity is not candidate-related political activity under these proposed regulations does not mean that the activity promotes social welfare. Whether such an activity promotes social welfare is an independent determination.
In defining candidate-related political activity for purposes of section 501(c)(4), these proposed regulations draw key concepts from the federal election campaign laws, with appropriate modifications reflecting the purpose of these regulations to define which organizations may receive the benefits of section 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status and to promote tax compliance (as opposed to campaign finance regulation). In addition, the concepts drawn from the federal election campaign laws have been modified to reflect that section 501(c)(4) organizations may be involved in activities related to local or state elections (in addition to federal elections), as well as the broader scope of the proposed definition of candidate (which is not limited to candidates for federal elective office).
The proposed regulations provide that candidate-related political activity includes activities that the IRS has traditionally considered to be political campaign activity per se , such as contributions to candidates and communications that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. The proposed regulations also would treat as candidate-related political activity certain activities that, because they occur close in time to an election or are election-related, have a greater potential to affect the outcome of an election. Currently, such activities are subject to a facts and circumstances analysis before a determination can be made as to whether the activity furthers social welfare within the meaning of section 501(c)(4). Under the approach in these proposed regulations, such activities instead would be subject to a more definitive rule. In addition, consistent with the goal of providing greater clarity, the proposed regulations would identify certain specific activities as candidate-related political activity. The Treasury Department and the IRS acknowledge that the approach taken in these proposed regulations, while clearer, may be both more restrictive and more permissive than the current approach, but believe the proposed approach is justified by the need to provide greater certainty to section 501(c)(4) organizations regarding their activities and reduce the need for fact-intensive determinations.
The Treasury Department and the IRS note that a particular activity may fit within one or more categories of candidate-related political activity described in subsections b through e of this section 2 of the preamble; the categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, the category of express advocacy communications may overlap with the category of certain communications close in time to an election.
a. Definition of “candidate”
These proposed regulations provide that, consistent with the scope of section 527, “candidate” means an individual who identifies himself or is proposed by another for selection, nomination, election, or appointment to any public office or office in a political organization, or to be a Presidential or Vice-Presidential elector, whether or not the individual is ultimately selected, nominated, elected, or appointed. In addition, the proposed regulations clarify that for these purposes the term “candidate” also includes any officeholder who is the subject of a recall election. The Treasury Department and the IRS note that defining “candidate-related political activity” in these proposed regulations to include activities related to candidates for a broader range of offices (such as activities relating to the appointment or confirmation of executive branch officials and judicial nominees) is a change from the historical application in the section 501(c)(4) context of the section 501(c)(3) standard of political campaign intervention, which focuses on candidates for elective public office only. See Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3)(iii). These proposed regulations instead would apply a definition that reflects the broader scope of section 527 and that is already applied to a section 501(c)(4) organization engaged in section 527 exempt function activity through section 527(f).
b. Express advocacy communications
These proposed regulations provide that candidate-related political activity includes communications that expressly advocate for or against a candidate. These proposed regulations draw from Federal Election Commission rules in defining “expressly advocate,” but expand the concept to include communications expressing a view on the selection, nomination, or appointment of individuals, or on the election or defeat of one or more candidates or of candidates of a political party. These proposed regulations make clear that all communications - including written, printed, electronic (including Internet), video, and oral communications - that express a view, whether for or against, on a clearly identified candidate (or on candidates of a political party) would constitute candidate-related political activity. A candidate can be “clearly identified” in a communication by name, photograph, or reference (such as “the incumbent” or a reference to a particular issue or characteristic distinguishing the candidate from others). The proposed regulations also provide that candidate-related political activity includes any express advocacy communication the expenditures for which an organization reports to the Federal Election Commission under the Federal Election Campaign Act as an independent expenditure.
c. Public communications close in time to an election
Under current guidance, the timing of a communication about a candidate that is made shortly before an election is a factor tending to indicate a greater risk of political campaign intervention or section 527 exempt function activity. In the interest of greater clarity, these proposed regulations would move away from the facts and circumstances approach that the IRS has traditionally applied in analyzing certain activities conducted close in time to an election. These proposed regulations draw from provisions of federal election campaign laws that treat certain communications that are close in time to an election and that refer to a clearly identified candidate as electioneering communications, but make certain modifications. The proposed regulations expand the types of candidates and communications that are covered to reflect the types of activities an organization might conduct related to local and state, as well as federal, contests, including any election or ballot measure to recall an individual who holds state or local elective public office. In addition, the expansion of the types of communications covered in the proposed regulations reflects the fact that an organization's tax exempt status is determined based on all of its activities, even low cost and volunteer activities, not just its large expenditures.
Under the proposed definition, any public communication that is made within 60 days before a general election or 30 days before a primary election and that clearly identifies a candidate for public office (or, in the case of a general election, refers to a political party represented in that election) would be considered candidate-related political activity. These timeframes are the same as those appearing in the Federal Election Campaign Act definition of electioneering communications. The definition of “election,” including what would be treated as a primary or a general election, is consistent with section 527(j) and the federal election campaign laws.
A communication is “public” if it is made using certain mass media (specifically, by broadcast, in a newspaper, or on the Internet), constitutes paid advertising, or reaches or is intended to reach at least 500 people (including mass mailings or telephone banks). The Treasury Department and the IRS intend that content previously posted by an organization on its Web site that clearly identifies a candidate and remains on the Web site during the specified pre-election period would be treated as candidate-related political activity.
The proposed regulations also provide that candidate-related political activity includes any communication the expenditures for which an organization reports to the Federal Election Commission under the Federal Election Campaign Act, including electioneering communications.
The approach taken in the proposed definition of candidate-related political activity would avoid the need to consider potential mitigating or aggravating circumstances in particular cases (such as whether an issueoriented communication is “neutral” or “biased” with respect to a candidate). Thus, this definition would apply without regard to whether a public communication is intended to influence the election or some other, non-electoral action (such as a vote on pending legislation) and without regard to whether such communication was part of a series of similar communications. Moreover, a public communication made outside the 60-day or 30-day period would not be candidate-related political activity if it does not fall within the ambit of express advocacy communications or another specific provision of the definition. The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on whether the length of the period should be longer (or shorter) and whether there are particular communications that (regardless of timing) should be excluded from the definition because they can be presumed to neither influence nor constitute an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. Any comments should specifically address how the proposed exclusion is consistent with the goal of providing clear rules that avoid fact-intensive determinations.
The Treasury Department and the IRS also note that this rule regarding public communications close in time to an election would not apply to public communications identifying a candidate for a state or federal appointive office that are made within a specified number of days before a scheduled appointment, confirmation hearing or vote, or other selection event. The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on whether a similar rule should apply with respect to communications within a specified period of time before such a scheduled appointment, confirmation hearing or vote, or other selection event.
d. Contributions to a candidate, political organization, or any section 501(c) entity engaged in candidate-related political activity
The proposed definition of candidate-related political activity would include contributions of money or anything of value to or the solicitation of contributions on behalf of (1) any person if such contribution is recognized under applicable federal, state, or local campaign finance law as a reportable contribution; (2) any political party, political committee, or other section 527 organization; or (3) any organization described in section 501(c) that engages in candidate-related political activity within the meaning of this proposed rule. This definition of contribution is similar to the definition of contribution that applies for purposes of section 527. The Treasury Department and the IRS intend that the term “anything of value” would include both in-kind donations and other support (for example, volunteer hours and free or discounted rentals of facilities or mailing lists). The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on whether other transfers, such as indirect contributions described in section 276 to political parties or political candidates, should be treated as candidate-related political activity.
The Treasury Department and the IRS recognize that a section 501(c)(4) organization making a contribution may not know whether a recipient section 501(c) organization engages in candidate-related political activity. The proposed regulations provide that, for purposes of this definition, a recipient organization would not be treated as a section 501(c) organization engaged in candidaterelated political activity if the contributor organization obtains a written representation from an authorized officer of the recipient organization stating that the recipient organization does not engage in any such activity and the contribution is subject to a written restriction that it not be used for candidaterelated political activity. This special provision would apply only if the contributor organization does not know or have reason to know that the representation is inaccurate or unreliable.
e. Election-related activities
The proposed definition of candidate-related political activity would include certain specified election-related activities, including the conduct of voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, distribution of material prepared by or on behalf of a candidate or section 527 organization, and preparation or distribution of a voter guide and accompanying material that refers to a candidate or a political party. In addition, an organization that hosts an event on its premises or conducts an event off-site within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election at which one or more candidates in such election appear as part of the program (whether or not such appearance was previously scheduled) would be engaged in candidate-related political activity under the proposed definition.
The Treasury Department and the IRS acknowledge that under the facts and circumstances analysis currently used for section 501(c)(4) organizations as well as for section 501(c)(3) organizations, these election-related activities may not be considered political campaign intervention if conducted in a non-partisan and unbiased manner. However, these determinations are highly fact-intensive. The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on whether any particular activities conducted by section 501(c)(4) organizations should be excepted from the definition of candidate-related political activity as voter education activity and, if so, a description of how the proposed exception will both ensure that excepted activities are conducted in a non-partisan and unbiased manner and avoid a fact-intensive analysis.
f. Attribution to a section 501(c)(4) organization of certain activities and communications
These proposed regulations provide that activities conducted by an organization include, but are not limited to, (1) activities paid for by the organization or conducted by the organization's officers, directors, or employees acting in that capacity, or by volunteers acting under the organization's direction or supervision; (2) communications made (whether or not such communications were previously scheduled) as part of the program at an official function of the organization or in an official publication of the organization; and (3) other communications (such as television advertisements) the creation or distribution of which is paid for by the organization. These proposed regulations also provide that an organization's Web site is an official publication of the organization, so that material posted by the organization on its Web site may constitute candidate-related political activity. The proposed regulations do not specifically address material posted by third parties on an organization's Web site. The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on whether, and under what circumstances, material posted by a third party on an interactive part of the organization's Web site should be attributed to the organization for purposes of this rule. In addition, the Treasury Department and the IRS have stated in guidance under section 501(c)(3) regarding political campaign intervention that when a charitable organization chooses to establish a link to another Web site, the organization is responsible for the consequences of establishing and maintaining that link, even if it does not have control over the content of the linked site. See Rev. Rul. 2007-41. The Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on whether the consequences of establishing and maintaining a link to another Web site should be the same or different for purposes of the proposed definition of candidate-related political activity.
Proposed Effective/Applicability Date
These regulations are proposed to be effective the date of publication of the Treasury decision adopting these rules as final regulations in the Federal Register. For proposed date of applicability, see §1.501(c)(4)-1(c).
Statement of Availability for IRS Documents
For copies of recently issued Revenue Procedures, Revenue Rulings, Notices, and other guidance published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin or Cumulative Bulletin, please visit the IRS Web site at http://www.irs.gov or the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.
It has been determined that this notice of proposed rulemaking is not a significant regulatory action as defined in Executive Order 12866, as supplemented by Executive Order 13563. Therefore, a regulatory assessment is not required. It also has been determined that section 553(b) of the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. chapter 5) does not apply to these regulations. It is hereby certified that this rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. This certification is based on the fact that only a minimal burden would be imposed by the rule, if adopted. Under the proposal, if a section 501(c)(4) organization chooses to contribute to a section 501(c) organization and wants assurance that the contribution will not be treated as candidate-related political activity, it may seek a written representation that the recipient does not engage in candidate-related political activity within the meaning of these regulations. Therefore, a regulatory flexibility analysis under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. chapter 6) is not required. Pursuant to section 7805(f) of the Code, this notice of proposed rulemaking has been submitted to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration for comment on its impact on small business.
Comments and Requests for Public Hearing
Before these proposed regulations are adopted as final regulations, consideration will be given to any written comments (a signed original and eight (8) copies) or electronic comments that are submitted timely to the IRS. The Treasury Department and the IRS generally request comments on all aspects of the proposed rules. In particular, the Treasury Department and the IRS request comments on whether there are other specific activities that should be included in, or excepted from, the definition of candidate-related political activity for purposes of section 501(c)(4). Such comments should address how the proposed addition or exception is consistent with the goals of providing more definitive rules and reducing the need for fact-intensive analysis of the activity. All comments submitted by the public will be made available for public inspection and copying at www.regulations.gov or upon request.
A public hearing will be scheduled if requested in writing by any person who timely submits written comments. If a public hearing is scheduled, notice of the date, time, and place for the public hearing will be published in the Federal Register.
The principal author of these regulations is Amy F. Giuliano, Office of Associate Chief Counsel (Tax Exempt and Government Entities). However, other personnel from the IRS and Treasury Department participated in their development.
List of Subjects in 26 CFR Part 1
Income taxes, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.
Proposed Amendments to the Regulations
Accordingly, 26 CFR part 1 is proposed to be amended as follows:
PART 1—INCOME TAXES
Paragraph 1. The authority citation for part 1 continues to read in part as follows:
Authority: 26 U.S.C. 7805 * * *
Par. 2. Section 1.501(c)(4)-1 is proposed to be amended by revising the first sentence of paragraph (a)(2)(ii) and adding paragraphs (a)(2)(iii) and (c) to read as follows:
§1.501(c)(4)-1 Civic organizations and local associations of employees.
(a) * * *
(2) * * *
(ii) * * * The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect candidate-related political activity, as defined in paragraph (a)(2)(iii) of this section. * * *
(iii) Definition of candidate-related political activity—(A) In general. For purposes of this section, candidate-related political activity means:
( 1) Any communication (as defined in paragraph (a)(2)(iii)(B)( 3) of this section) expressing a view on, whether for or against, the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of one or more clearly identified candidates or of candidates of a political party that—
( i) Contains words that expressly advocate, such as “vote,” “oppose,” “support,” “elect,” “defeat,” or “reject;” or
( ii) Is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than a call for or against the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of one or more candidates or of candidates of a political party;
( 2) Any public communication (defined in paragraph (a)(2)(iii)(B)( 5) of this section) within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election that refers to one or more clearly identified candidates in that election or, in the case of a general election, refers to one or more political parties represented in that election;
( 3) Any communication the expenditures for which are reported to the Federal Election Commission, including independent expenditures and electioneering communications;
( 4) A contribution (including a gift, grant, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit) of money or anything of value to or the solicitation of contributions on behalf of—
( i) Any person, if the transfer is recognized under applicable federal, state, or local campaign finance law as a reportable contribution to a candidate for elective office;
( ii) Any section 527 organization; or
( iii) Any organization described in section 501(c) that engages in candidate-related political activity within the meaning of this paragraph (a)(2)(iii) (see special rule in paragraph (a)(2)(iii)(D) of this section);
( 5) Conduct of a voter registration drive or “get-out-the-vote” drive;
( 6) Distribution of any material prepared by or on behalf of a candidate or by a section 527 organization including, without limitation, written materials, and audio and video recordings;
( 7) Preparation or distribution of a voter guide that refers to one or more clearly identified candidates or, in the case of a general election, to one or more political parties (including material accompanying the voter guide); or
( 8) Hosting or conducting an event within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election at which one or more candidates in such election appear as part of the program.
(B) Related definitions. The following terms are defined for purposes of this paragraph (a)(2)(iii) only:
( 1) “ Candidate” means an individual who publicly offers himself, or is proposed by another, for selection, nomination, election, or appointment to any federal, state, or local public office or office in a political organization, or to be a Presidential or Vice-Presidential elector, whether or not such individual is ultimately selected, nominated, elected, or appointed. Any officeholder who is the subject of a recall election shall be treated as a candidate in the recall election.
( 2) “ Clearly identified” means the name of the candidate involved appears, a photograph or drawing of the candidate appears, or the identity of the candidate is apparent by reference, such as by use of the candidate's recorded voice or of terms such as “the Mayor,” “your Congressman,” “the incumbent,” “the Democratic nominee,” or “the Republican candidate for County Supervisor.” In addition, a candidate may be “clearly identified” by reference to an issue or characteristic used to distinguish the candidate from other candidates.
( 3) “ Communication” means any communication by whatever means, including written, printed, electronic (including Internet), video, or oral communications.
( 4) “ Election” means a general, special, primary, or runoff election for federal, state, or local office; a convention or caucus of a political party that has authority to nominate a candidate for federal, state or local office; a primary election held for the selection of delegates to a national nominating convention of a political party; or a primary election held for the expression of a preference for the nomination of individuals for election to the office of President. A special election or a runoff election is treated as a primary election if held to nominate a candidate. A convention or caucus of a political party that has authority to nominate a candidate is also treated as a primary election. A special election or a runoff election is treated as a general election if held to elect a candidate. Any election or ballot measure to recall an individual who holds state or local elective public office is also treated as a general election.
( 5) “ Public communication” means any communication (as defined in paragraph (a)(2)(iii)(B)( 3) of this section)—
( i) By broadcast, cable, or satellite;
( ii) On an Internet Web site;
( iii) In a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical;
( iv) In the form of paid advertising; or
( v) That otherwise reaches, or is intended to reach, more than 500 persons.
( 6) “ Section 527 organization” means an organization described in section 527(e)(1) (including a separate segregated fund described in section 527(f)(3)), whether or not the organization has filed notice under section 527(i).
(C) Attribution. For purposes of this section, activities conducted by an organization include activities paid for by the organization or conducted by an officer, director, or employee acting in that capacity or by volunteers acting under the organization's direction or supervision. Communications made by an organization include communications the creation or distribution of which is paid for by the organization or that are made in an official publication of the organization (including statements or material posted by the organization on its Web site), as part of the program at an official function of the organization, by an officer or director acting in that capacity, or by an employee, volunteer, or other representative authorized to communicate on behalf of the organization and acting in that capacity.
(D) Special rule regarding contributions to section 501(c) organizations. For purposes of paragraph (a)(2)(iii)(A)( 4) of this section, a contribution to an organization described in section 501(c) will not be treated as a contribution to an organization engaged in candidate-related political activity if—
( 1) The contributor organization obtains a written representation from an authorized officer of the recipient organization stating that the recipient organization does not engage in such activity (and the contributor organization does not know or have reason to know that the representation is inaccurate or unreliable); and
( 2) The contribution is subject to a written restriction that it not be used for candidate-related political activity within the meaning of this paragraph (a)(2)(iii).
(c) Effective/applicability date. Paragraphs (a)(2)(ii) and (iii) of this section apply on and after the date of publication of the Treasury decision adopting these rules as final regulations in the Federal Register.
Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement.
1 In 2000 and 2002, section 527 was amended to require political organizations (with some exceptions) to file a notice with the IRS when first organized and to periodically disclose publicly certain information regarding their expenditures and contributions. See sections 527(i) and 527(j).