The New York Times on March 16 carried an article on New York state nonprofits that have regularly given political contributions to state-level politicians. Somehow at least 81 nonprofits, and scores of legislators, did not know this has been illegal for half a century. Some offered the excuse that they were only buying tickets to fundraisers. Of course, the point of a fundraiser is to raise money for the politician. I sometimes think I have been around too long to be shocked, but here is proof once again that you just never know.
The IRS ban on 501c3 organizations making political contributions or working on political campaigns is absolute. It was one of the first lessons I learned in the sector. Several wise mentors told me at various times early in my career as an executive director: “It is ok for you to make personal contributions to politicians,” they said, “but don’t put them on your expense reimbursement form. These have to come from you.” I guess they could have used some of those folks in New York.
This is just the kind of bonehead move that gives critics of the sector unnecessary fodder. Forget the fact that it is actually legal for businesses to make political contributions, and that this law puts nonprofits at a disadvantage. Forget also the obvious truth that money buys access, and that several of these New York nonprofits received nice state contracts after making their mostly modest contributions. It is still illegal.