January 29, 2010

Chart Outlines Nonprofit Impact of Supreme Court Campaign-Finance Ruling

Alliance for Justice, a coalition of advocacy groups, has published a chart outlining how the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on corporate campaign spending affects nonprofit groups.

The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allows corporations -- including nonprofit advocacy groups covered by section 501(c)4 of the federal tax code -- to use money from their general treasuries to promote the election or defeat of political candidates, without having to set up separate political-action committees.

Previously, only 501(c)4 groups meeting certain criteria, such as accepting no business or labor contributions, had the right to make such "independent expenditures" -- that is, spending that is not coordinated with political candidates or campaigns.

The chart notes that tax-exempt groups must still comply with Internal Revenue Service rules, for example those that prohibit 501(c)4 groups from undertaking partisan political work as their "primary activity."

The ruling does not remove the ban on partisan political activity that applies to charities covered by section 501(c)3 of the tax code, although some legal experts have speculated that the court's rationale could prompt a legal challenge to that restriction.

The chart also discusses the ruling's impact on labor unions, trade associations, andpolitical-action committees.

See The Chronicle's news story on the Supreme Court ruling and an opinion on the case by Leslie Lenkowsky.