9

A Daily Kos article chronicles a series of tweets about the fact that Donald Trump has already filed paperwork relating to his reelection campaign and the repercussions of that filing. I'm not skeptical that he actually made the filing, because you can find it on the FEC's website.

The claims stated in the tweets boil down to:

  • This allows Trump to "use candidate status to curry favor with PACs, businesses, other organizations," something the president cannot do unless he is also a candidate for president.
  • 501c3 nonprofit organizations are not allowed to "campaign" in presidential elections and, as a result,
  • Those organizations risk losing their nonprofit status if and when they criticize Donald Trump.

These are news to me, which is why I'm skeptical. My understanding was that these forms are simply a legal requirement for candidates that raise funds over a certain threshold.

migrated from skeptics.stackexchange.com Jan 31 '17 at 1:41

This question came from our site for scientific skepticism.

4

With regards to the 501c3 aspects of the question, the IRS has a FAQ about what a 501c3 can do. It states

For an organization to be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) it cannot “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.”

Also

Violating this ban may result in denial or revocation of the organization’s tax-exempt status and the imposition of an excise tax on the amount of money spent on the activity.

While I don't know about the currying favor portion of your first point, your second and third points are completely accurate. 501c3 are prohibited from some forms of political speech and may lose their tax exempt status if they violate those restrictions.

  • 1
    Does the fact that Donald Trump has already filed for reelection have an impact on this, as opposed to if he had waited until closer to the 2020 election? – Justin Lardinois Jan 31 '17 at 1:03
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    It seems to me this answer confirms what the restrictions on a 501(c)3 are w.r.t a candidate; I think the more relevant issue here is whether the filing makes Trump a "candidate" for purposes of said restrictions, especially in light of the first phrase in the filing, "While this does not constitute a formal announcement of my candidacy for the 2020 election." – Kevin Jan 31 '17 at 1:24
  • De iure, that might be the case, but de facto I don't see how the IRS will be able to enforce those rules. The IRS Tea Party controversy just proves that point. – ventsyv Jan 31 '17 at 3:31
2

Criticizing a sitting President is not the same as conducting a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office, even if the President is running for re-election.

There are lots of criticisms that are permitted short of "don't re-elect Trump" and the argument otherwise is a misguided reading of the statute merely intended to intimidate the opposition. In general, a 501(c)(3) is perfectly free to take a stance on a policy issue related to governance between elections, so long as this is consistent with its purpose.

In particular, they are free to criticize Donald Trump so long as they do so in a way not particular to his or another candidate's campaign to win re-election.

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