ACE and a group of 56 higher education organizations have submitted comments to the IRS in response to the agency's query about whether proposed restrictions on campaign-related activities for 501(c)(4) groups should be extended to 501(c)(3) organizations.
Under IRS rules, a 501(c)3 is a nonprofit organization established for religious, charitable or educational purposes. These types of institutions typically conduct research and can only engage in a limited amount of lobbying, advocacy or political activity. All private, nonprofit colleges and universities are 501(c)(3)s, and some state universities also are organized as 501(c)(3)s.
A 501(c)4 is a social welfare group and can engage in more extensive advocacy, lobbying and campaign-related activity.
A central feature of the proposed rule is that any “public communication” which clearly identifies a candidate within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election would be barred. The rule would prohibit organizations from hosting events with candidates within those timeframes (for example, forbidding presidential debates on campuses during these time periods).
If the IRS were to expand its new 501(c)4 standards to colleges and universities, the groups said in their letter, it would “fundamentally damage the role that colleges and universities have played for hundreds of years in encouraging civic learning and democratic engagement.”
ACE’s Steven M. Bloom told Inside Higher Ed that although the Obama administration was only seeking input at this point, it is a “worrisome” issue for college leaders. ‘The IRS doesn't do this as an academic exercise,” he said. ‘They must be seriously contemplating what they view as problems.’”
To read the comments in full, click here.