Illinois’s primary election is coming up on March 15th and the presidential election is November 8th. While most local elections in Illinois are in odd years, your school district may have a bond referendum on the ballot. With elections dominating the news, it’s a good time to review what PTAs can and can’t do as 501(c)3 organizations.
- Endorse individual candidates. The IRS prohibits 501(c)3 organizations from endorsing individual candidates.
- Solicit or accept donations or sponsorships from a political campaign fund. Such donations give the appearance of support for the candidate by the PTA. Candidates can donate personal funds to support PTA activities (e.g., paying a membership fee from their own pocket to join your PTA).
- Link the PTA name or logo with a political candidate or party. PTA members running for office may cite their PTA leadership experience as one of their qualifications for office, but cannot have the PTA appear to endorse them. Likewise, if a PTA leader is asked to speak at a candidate’s campaign event, they should be introduced without citing their PTA position (e.g., “Our next speaker is local PTA president Jane Smith.” Is not allowed).
- Send ballot issue or election literature of any kind home with students. The backpack express may be a convenient way of sharing PTA information, but for election issues, the PTA must use its own resources to share that information.
- Sponsor voter registration efforts. PTAs must register everyone qualified to vote that asks to do so and can’t screen registrations (e.g., only registering Democrats or Republicans).
- Encourage citizens to vote. PTAs can publicize election dates and polling places as well as a list of all candidates running for office.
- Produce voter education materials. Voter guides or voting records must include information for all candidates (or note that the candidate was contacted and did not respond).
- Host candidate forums. All candidates must be invited to participate in the forum, though some may choose not to do so. Each candidate should be given equal time to speak.
- Support or oppose ballot issues. PTAs can endorse issues such as bond referendums if their membership votes to do so. Likewise, PTA Councils can endorse issues if a majority of PTAs in the council are directed by their membership to do so. In addition, while candidates may have a position for a ballot issue as part of their platform, that does not mean that the PTA supports that candidate, and the PTA cannot
- Produce literature on your PTA’s position on an issue. PTAs may produce literature on their position on an issue that their membership has voted to support or oppose. The IRS limits the money spent for such activities to “an insubstantial amount” of the PTA’s gross revenue (i.e., all the money the PTA takes in during its fiscal year). This amount is generally viewed as being less than 5% of gross revenue. Note that this limit applies to all of the PTA’s lobbying throughout the year. If your PTA votes to spend PTA funds to develop advocacy materials, it must be approved at a general membership meeting and recorded in the minutes.
Photo © 2010 by Alan Cleaver under Creative Commons license.