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Supporting tax-exempt organizations

General rule for solicitations

A federal candidate, officeholder or his or her agents may make solicitations for certain tax-exempt organizations. The regulations regarding solicitation for tax-exempt organizations differ depending on whether the funds solicited will be used for certain federal election activities and whether the organization’s principal purpose is to conduct Federal Election Activity.

Limits and prohibitions on solicitations

General solicitations

A federal candidate or officeholder (or individual acting on behalf of either) may make a general solicitation on behalf of a 501(c) tax-exempt organization, or an organization that has applied for this tax status, without limits on the source or amount of funds, if:

  • The organization does not engage in activities in connection with elections; or
  • It is not the principal purpose of the organization to conduct election activities, including certain federal election activity; and
  • The solicitation is not to obtain funds for activities in connection with an election, including certain federal election activity.

Specific solicitations for Federal Election Activity

A federal candidate or officeholder (or individual acting on behalf of either) may also make a specific solicitation explicitly to obtain funds to pay for federal election activities conducted by or for a tax-exempt organization whose principal purpose is to undertake such activities. The federal election activities for which such a specific solicitation may be made are limited to:

  • Voter registration activity during the period that begins 120 days before the date of a regularly scheduled federal election and ends on the day of that election; and
  • Voter identification, get-out-the vote or generic campaign activity conducted in connection with an election in which a federal candidate appears on the ballot (regardless of whether a state or local candidate also appears on the ballot).

When making specific solicitations for a tax-exempt organization, the candidate may solicit only individuals and may solicit no more than $20,000 per calendar year from each contributor.

General prohibition

Federal law permits solicitations by federal candidates and officeholders only for the specific federal election activities listed above; these individuals must not make any solicitations on behalf of a 501(c) organization, or an organization that has applied for this tax status, for any other types of election activities, such as public communications promoting, supporting, attacking or opposing federal candidates.

Safe harbor

To determine whether a 501(c) organization is not one whose principal purpose is to conduct election activities, such as those outlined, a federal candidate or officeholder or their agent may obtain and rely upon a written certification, signed by an officer or other authorized representative of the organization with knowledge of the organization’s activities, stating that:

  • It is not the organization’s principal purpose to engage in election activities, including the types of election activity described above; and
  • The organization does not intend to pay debts incurred from expenditures or disbursements in connection with an election for federal office (including for federal election activities) in a prior election cycle.

If the federal candidate or officeholder (or an agent of either) has actual knowledge that the certification is false, then the certification may not be relied upon.