HOW TO TIPS – Nonpartisan Parameters & Guidelines
Important to Know
While striving to fulfill the third Purpose of the PTA—“to secure adequate laws for the care and protection of children and youth,” it is important for PTA members to understand the nonpartisan IRS rules regarding non-profit organizations. PTA is a 501(c)(3) organization with a tax-exempt public charity status.
Issues may become identified with partisan politics because of the differing approaches to the solution, but the basic principles involving the welfare of children and youth are matters of public concern and, therefore, PTA business.
It is acceptable for state and local PTAs to draft, petition for, or endorse ballot initiatives, legislation, or issue campaigns when they fit within the strict parameters of National PTA Resolutions and Position Statements.
As permissible under federal tax laws, PTA members may engage in legislative activities on behalf of children and youth and may educate the general public and policy makers about officially adopted PTA positions and resolutions.
As long as they remain strictly nonpartisan, PTA members may educate the general public about issues affecting children.
PTA is allowed to attempt to influence legislation through lobbying efforts.
PTA May NOT
To maintain charitable status, PTA organizations may not campaign for or against candidates for federal, state, or local public office. Specific rules also apply to the association’s lobbying activities and the amount of money that may be allotted to these lobbying activities.
PTA is constrained by the amount of money that can be spent on lobbying efforts.
Candidates — NONPARTISAN Rules
PTA may NOT
- Endorse or campaign on behalf of or against any candidate or political party.
- Tell members to only vote for a candidate who supports X position
- Invite only one candidate in an election to come speak to the PTA
- Distribute any campaign materials on behalf of a candidate.
- Wear campaign buttons or t-shirts during a PTA meeting.
- Even though an organization can express an opinion about an elected official’s position on an issue, avoid doing so during a campaign. Do not ask a candidate to publicly endorse any issue.
- While regular members and board members can support or oppose candidates as private citizens, they must not associate their political activity with PTA.
- Advocate for the adoption or rejection of legislation--take a stand on an issue and principles if supported by an adopted resolution or position statement.
- Contact or urge the public to contact legislators for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation.
- Register Voters. Volunteers must register all eligible voters regardless of party affiliation or political views.
- Remind members to vote.
- Educate candidates on issues important to PTA.
- Publish a candidates’ questionnaire. All candidates must be given the opportunity to answer the questionnaire and responses must be printed exactly as written.
- Lobby to influence legislation, as permissible under federal tax laws.
- Invite your legislators to visit your schools, but it is best not to do so during an election campaign if they are running for reelection.
Candidate Forums — NONPARTISAN rules
The IRS can penalize tax-exempt organizations that host a forum that favors or opposes any candidate.
- Invite ALL candidates registered with the secretary of state (or other elections certifying body) and vying for an elective position.
- Any debate must have at least two opposing candidates. If only one candidate will be appearing, you should cancel the forum.
- Inform the candidates about the presentation format.
- In all communications, such as the publicity of the event or the introductions, you should emphasize the nonpartisan nature of the event and the nonpartisan method used to qualify candidates for inclusion in the event.
- All candidates do not have to attend for the forum to meet IRS rules, but all candidates must be offered the chance to attend. The IRS can penalize tax-exempt organizations that host a forum that favors or opposes any candidate.
- PTA Board members and event organizers should not wear campaign buttons or otherwise endorse a candidate at the organization’s event.
- Allow all candidates equal time to respond to questions.
- Do not declare a “winner.”
Expenditures — NONPARTISAN rules
Your local unit may lobby on issues, if supported by an adopted resolution or position statement, though be advised your unit should spend NOT more than 5% of your annual budget on lobbying efforts.
From Money Matters, National PTA’s publication: “Under the substantial part test (which most PTA’s use), in order for a PTA to be recognized as being tax-exempt under IRC Section 501(c)(3) and to receive tax-deductible contributions, it may not devote more than an insubstantial part of its activities (generally interpreted as not exceeding 5% of gross income) to influence legislation.” PTA’s need to report expenses spent on lobbying on their Federal tax form—the 990 that they file in November.
Kansas Ethics Commission is the source for Kansas guidelines: http://www.kansas.gov/ethics/Lobbying/Rules_&_Regulations/index.html
School Resources or School Employees — NONPARTISAN rules
Since taxpayer dollars are used to purchase school supplies and to pay the salaries of school employees, any use of school resources or of school employee time could result in an ethics charge being filed against the school system or a school employee.
PTAs are private organizations, and as such are not so restricted. However, PTAs must take all necessary precautions to ensure their actions do not inadvertently cause problems for the school system or a school employee.
- Maintain a mailing list of PTA members, and mail campaign materials (including newsletters if they contain promotional material) directly to PTA members. Do not use a school-supplied mailing list. Do not send campaign material home with students.
- Copy all campaign material off school premises. Do not use school copiers.
- If the PTA website is sponsored by the school, don't put campaign materials on the website. If the PTA website is independent of the school, then campaign materials may be put on the website. It is okay for the school’s website to link to the PTA website.
- Distribute campaign material during PTA meetings. If the school system has a policy allowing private organizations to use the buildings, the PTA meeting is a private meeting and distribution of materials does not violate the law.
- Distribution of educational material (non-promotional) using school resources is NOT a violation of the law. For example, you can send home a flyer with students urging parents to vote in the upcoming referendum; however, you may not urge them to vote “YES” unless you mail the flyer using the PTA’s distribution.
Ballot Issues — NONPARTISAN rules
PTA may take a stand on a ballot measure or a local levy, if supported by an adopted resolution or position statement.
- It is considered direct lobbying because the voters are the decision makers. It is important to remember that working on a ballot measure will count as lobby activities and is subject to IRS non-profit lobbying rules.
- Information about resolutions is available at the National PTA website: http://www.pta.org/ia_category_details_1141755338062.html
Political Action Committees — NONPARTISAN rules
PTA may NOT contribute to a political action committee (PAC) whose whole purpose is to influence the election of any individual to public office.
PTA may support a PAC that takes a position on a ballot issue (such as for a zoning or constitutional matter, school levy, or statewide referendum). However, the PTA must be absolutely certain that the PAC it supports is strictly issue-oriented and does not support or oppose any candidate or party.
More information about what PTAs can and can’t do to maintain their nonpartisanship status:
- Alliance for Justice Non-profit Advocacy Resources http://www.allianceforjustice.org/for-nonprofits-foundations/resources-and-publications/
- Center for Non-profit Management http://www.cnmsocal.org/ForNonprofits/FAQLobbying.html#3
- Internal Revenue Service http://www.irs.gov/index.html
- Kansas Ethics Commission http://www.kansas.gov/ethics/Lobbying/Rules_&_Regulations/index.html
Publication of the Kansas PTA Advocacy Team (2011).
Debbie Lawson firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy Niles Lusk email@example.com
Mary Sinclair, PhD firstname.lastname@example.org