As a minister, I’m afraid of mixing politics with my 501(c)(3). How can I let my voice be heard and influence my congregation without jeopardizing my ministry?

A:

This is a fear that we often hear expressed. We know that it may exist even when a minister does not say it explicitly. This is an unfounded fear as long as you as a minister do not endorse a candidate for office from the pulpit or oppose a candidate in that way. In other words you as the leader of your flock are not supposed to be campaigning politically. That is a red line you shouldn’t cross. Beyond that when you say you are mixing politics with the pulpit you may be speaking of what we call lobbying. Lobbying or advocacy for legislation means explicitly saying to your representative or your senators, vote for this bill or don’t vote for that bill. That is lobbying. Anything short of that is not lobbying. Even explicit lobbying, such as I have described, in other words advocating the passage of one bill or opposing action on another, can be done by your congregation as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity, so long as it doesn’t use a substantial part of your budget. You only must be careful not to do more of this than is allowed under IRS regulations. These set a sliding scale for what percentage of funds you may spend on such activities. For a small organization, for example, it might be that no more than twenty percent of your funds could be spent advocating for or against legislation, i.e. lobbying. As you can readily see this is a high threshold and you would not normally be spending twenty percent of the funds of your congregation in advocating for, say, a bill to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem or opposing a bill that would provide for some action opposed to Israel. You certainly can urge your congregants to become involved with pro-Israel organizations like CIPAC and MERCL without doing anything to jeopardize your tax-exempt status. If you have any questions on this line I encourage you to consult your legal counsel or your CPA or other tax advisor.


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