Tax exemption

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Noisebridge is a California Corporation with federal 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. This means that we don't pay tax like a for-profit commercial entity would, and people who donate things to us have some assurance that we're not going to screw them by selling it and taking trips to exotic tropical islands. In exchange, we have to abide by some restrictions on what we can do.

The Law[edit]

26 USC §501(c)(3)[edit]

(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

There's two prohibitions to consider here: intervening in a political campaign, and influencing legislation.

The Internal Revenue Code[edit]

Political Campaigns[edit]

IRS has internal guidance which points out that political intervention doesn't have to be for or against a *specific* candidate, and that distributing statements which affect *incumbents* is also a prohibited activity:

"The prohibition against participation or intervention in a political campaign is absolute. Therefore, it is not material that the intervention is an insubstantial part of an organization's activities or that other activities would, by themselves, support exemption..."

IRS has two revenue rulings, 78-248 and 80-282, which make it clear that even implying things in opposition to an incumbent or incumbents is a good way to get your 501(c)(3) status revoked. There's a healthy list of IRS rulings involving religious corporations which had their tax exemption yanked because they tried to get around the political campaign prohibition by pretending they were being neutral about broadcasting selective information about incumbents. IRS probably has better things to do than pounce on us using similar logic, but should they do so the potential consequences and impact to innocent members implies that those risks must be solemnly considered.

Influencing Legislation[edit]

Unlike the issue of political campaign involvement, influencing legislation is not absolutely prohibited. It is possible for a 501(c)(3) to involve themselves in influencing legislation without penalty, given this definition in 29 USC §4911(d)(1): "...the term “influencing legislation” means— (A) any attempt to influence any legislation through an attempt to affect the opinions of the general public or any segment thereof..."

If less than a "substantial" amount of the organization's activity is involved in influencing legislation, it can choose to subject itself to the rules of 26 USC §501(h) to do so without negative consequences. Determining what "substantial" is can be somewhat complicated. Since it affects the corporation, the consensus process should be used in good faith to determine the correct course of action.