Lessons Learned from the Della Pello Decision

Earlier this year, a government contractor lost just over $7 million in New Jersey state government contracts because of a single political contribution that was inadvertently made payable to the WRONG political recipient. Don’t let this happen to your company:

  • If an invitation for a political event gives you a choice of recipients to which you can write your check, always evaluate your options and understand the pay-to-play limits with respect to each recipient committee. Different pay-to-play restrictions apply to different types of recipients. Choose wisely …
  • Always have a clear understanding of each type of recipient committee. Ask yourself – are we writing our check to a candidate, party, PAC, Super PAC or legislative leadership committee?
  • Look at the check before it goes out to make sure the check is payable to the intended recipient. Ask yourself – does the name on the check match up with the name on the invitation? Is this the committee to which we want to contribute?
  • Use a cover letter with each contribution. Stick to the basics – Who, What , When, Where – remember less can sometimes be more – there is no need to include a Why!
  • Review your canceled checks on a regular basis to make sure your check was deposited by the intended recipient and didn’t end up in the wrong pile of checks (sometimes recipient committees share a Treasurer).
  • Train relevant people within your company about the “Dos and Don’ts” of political activity compliance (although too many cooks in the kitchen can sometimes be a recipe for disaster, having more than one set of eyes involved in the process is usually helpful).
  • Do not participate as a matter of routine – recipient committees will always be happy to accept your contribution after an event – contact the recipient committee if you need additional information and take your time to make an informed decision – remember – political contributions are NOT an emergency!
  • And, if a mistake occurs because you did not have (or follow) the proper procedures at the time of the contribution, review the refund provisions and do everything in your power to get the check back within the correct time-frame.

For more information on how you or your company may safely participate in the political process while preserving eligibility for government contracting opportunities, please contact Rebecca Moll Freed, Esq., Chair of the Corporate Political Activity Law Group, at rfreed@genovaburns.com or 973-230-2075.

501(c)(3)s and the 2016 Federal Election: Do You Know What Your Employees Are Doing?

As the 2016 presidential primary season proceeds, we are quickly approaching the summer conventions and the November presidential election. With the political contests becoming more heated, this post is part of a new series on what different entities and groups need to know about their political activity as the 2016 election approaches.

There are many obvious benefits to earning the designation of a 501(c)(3) charitable organization—the organization is exempt from tax and donations are deductible. But the Internal Revenue Code places a key limitation on all 501(c)(3) organizations by prohibiting them from engaging in any political activity. Violation of this prohibition on political activity may lead the IRS to refuse or revoke 501(c)(3) status. A 501(c)(3) therefore must avoid any partisan activity that supports or opposes political candidates or political parties.

A 501(c)(3) generally MAY NOT:

  • Make political contributions (monetary or in-kind).
  • Issue a statement that supports or opposes a candidate (e.g., stand-alone statements, statements in newsletters, or material on a website).
  • Endorse a candidate.
  • Ask a candidate to sign a pledge on any issue.

However, a 501(c)(3) may generally engage in non-partisan activity that is related to the democratic process. Therefore, a 501(c)(3) generally MAY:

  • Engage in non-partisan election-related activities such as get-out-the-vote and voter registration drives.
  • Engage in limited lobbying (related to the mission of the organization), including ballot-measure advocacy.
  • Educate all candidates on issues within the purview of the organization.
  • Conduct non-partisan public-education and training sessions about participation in the political process.
  • Prepare and disseminate non-partisan candidate questionnaires and sample ballots.

However, the officers, directors, and employees of a 501(c)(3) retain the right to personally engage in political activity (just as we described in our recent post on political activity for corporations). A 501(c)(3) must simply be careful to avoid allowing organization resources (from mailing lists to letterhead) to be used for political activity or permitting individuals to engage in political activity that suggests the support or endorsement of the organization.