Proposed IRS rule could limit the freedom to link.
February 5, 2001 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Proposed IRS rule could limit the freedom to link. The US Internal Revenue Service is proposing a rule that might make it inadvisable for not-for-profit organizations to provide links on their Web sites to any political site. The IRS is proposing to interpret any link to a political site from the pages of a nonprofit as evidence that the nonprofit is "engaging in political activity" and thus in danger of losing its 503(c) status.
posted by lagado (8 comments total)
As the site notes, this has been floating around since last October. And the IRS isn't proposing a rule; it's only asking for the public to comment on how they should apply existing regulations WRT web links.

IMHO, direct political links should be disallowed. If you want to maintain 501(c)(3) status (not 503(c)), you stay out of politics, period (unless you're Jesse Jackson, for whom the rules don't apply). But linking to nonpolitical areas of such sites ought to be allowed. For example, if a 501(c)(3) wanted to link to Planned Parenthood information about obtaining abortions, fine. But if they wanted to link to PP's "Stop Ashcroft" information, that should absolutely be disallowed.
posted by aaron at 10:41 PM on February 5, 2001

Ehhh... and which sites are not political?

You can hardly put two words together without being political. In fact, the whole point of politics is that everything can be included.

posted by palnatoke at 12:05 AM on February 6, 2001

From an IRS standpoint, it's pretty well defined what constitutes "political activity." From the IRS proposal:
Charitable organizations described in section 501(c)(3) may not intervene in political campaigns and may only attempt to influence legislation as an insubstantial part of their activities. If the charitable organization makes an election under section 501(h), an expenditure test is applied in determining whether the organization has engaged in substantial lobbying activities, with different limits applicable for direct and grassroots lobbying.

posted by aaron at 12:10 AM on February 6, 2001

I'm kinda with Aaron, except that a site certainly ought to be able to link to a partner organization. For instance, the Planned Parenthood example: someone ought to be able to follow a link to their PAC and give 'em money. Should that technically be a separate domain name, or just a clearly delineated portion of the website? Techheads would point out that the domain name is a virtual figleaf. Then comes the tricky part. If the PAC is on the same website, and links as it should be able to to political information, how does one parse the rule? This could get hairy, and end up with a requirement for half-assed technical mumbo-jumbo solutions like separate domain names, just to satisfy the letter of the law. Masters of non-profit websites, plan ahead.

palnatoke, "political" has some specific meaning within the context of non-profit tax-exempt status.
posted by dhartung at 12:13 AM on February 6, 2001

I'm not clear on your example. Are you speaking of PP linking to its own PAC pages, or of an unrelated 501(c)(3) linking to PP's PAC pages? (Can PP even have a PAC?)
posted by aaron at 1:17 AM on February 6, 2001

Say a charity has a physical bulletin board, real cork and wood, hanging in the waiting room of its main office.

1. Is it okay under 501-whatever rules for the charity to post political notices with phone numbers and addresses on its bulletin board?

2. Would the charity be required, under good ol' 501-whatever rules, to police the board to make sure others had not posted such things?
posted by pracowity at 1:27 AM on February 6, 2001

Planned Parenthood does have a PAC, as do many membership organizations. But the PAC itself is organized under 501(c)(4), which regulates lobbying groups that do engage in political activities. The money for the PAC must be kept separate from general funds and is pretty tightly regulated. But most 501(c)(3) groups do not engage in political stuff because the IRS has shown that it will go after them (as it did the Christian Coalition) if the activity is widespread.
posted by thescoop at 7:40 AM on February 6, 2001

Right now Planned Parenthood Action Fund operates on a separate URL, though there is lobbying material on the regular site.

Of course, so does the other side.
posted by dhartung at 9:28 AM on February 6, 2001

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