Tuesday, July 24, 2007

2007 Political Activity Guidelines for Catholic Organizations

From the USCCB, here is a sampling:

Columnists. Generally, the statements of columnists appearing in a Catholic organization periodical are attributable to the organization. Catholic organizations typically pay for columns that appear in their publications, either through salary or syndication payments. Even if a columnist is unpaid, the opinion expressed may nonetheless be attributed to the Catholic organization, especially if the columnist is a Church official, because the periodical constitutes an official publication of the Catholic organization and the organization exercises editorial control over its columnists. Opinion columns are not analogous to unsolicited letters to the editor (see below). Accordingly, prudence dictates that Catholic periodicals reject columns that endorse, support, or oppose candidates.

Photo Ops. It is not unusual, during the heat of a campaign, for a candidate or campaign organization to contact a Catholic organization requesting some accommodation, which might range from a photo opportunity at a Catholic school, health care facility or homeless shelter, a "meet and greet" with the bishop or pastor, an appearance at a sponsored event, to other forms of access to Catholic populations. It is difficult to generalize about the appropriateness of such requests from a section 501(c)(3) perspective. In addition, (arch)dioceses may have local policies regulating such access. A Catholic organization receiving an accommodation request should inform the candidate immediately of its status as a section 501(c)(3) organization, the limitations imposed by the political campaign intervention prohibition, and the need for further consultation. The organization should then contact the (arch)diocese concerning the existence of any local policy governing the request. If no local policy would bar the request, local legal counsel should be consulted to evaluate the applicability of the political campaign intervention prohibition.

Voter Guides -- Candidate Questionnaires. Candidate Questionnaires. Polling candidates or asking candidates to complete questionnaires designed to elicit their positions on various issues is a neutral activity, assuming that the questions themselves do not exhibit bias. It is only when the results are disseminated during an election campaign that the political campaign activity prohibition becomes a potential issue. IRS has identified the following criteria for determining whether publication or distribution of candidate questionnaire results violates the political campaign activity prohibition: (a) whether the questionnaire is sent to all candidates; (b) whether candidates are given a reasonable period of time to respond; (c) if given a limited choice of responses, whether candidates are also given a reasonable opportunity to offer explanations that are included in the voter guide; (d) whether all responses are published; (e) whether the questions indicate bias toward the sponsoring organization's preferred answer; (f) whether the responses are compared to the sponsoring organization's positions on the issues; (g) whether the responses are published as received, without editing by the sponsoring organization; and (h) whether a wide range of issues of interest to voters is covered. The range of issues criterion is contextual; it depends on the particular office being sought. Thus, candidates for local school board need not be queried on foreign policy. Rather, they can be questioned on a broad range of education issues relevant to school board office. [See: Rev. Rul. 2007-41 at 1421; Election Year Issues at 371-2; Rev. Rul. 78-248, 1978-1 C.B. 154, Situation 4.]