Nonprofit Institute Director Pat Libby Speaks to Nonprofit Quarterly About San Diego Nonprofit and Mayoral Politics

Nonprofit Quarterly -- It’s important for nonprofits to advocate on behalf of their causes and weigh in on important public policy issues and community challenges, but a recent development in the drama over former San Diego mayor Bob Filner shows that nonprofit leaders need to be careful about how it’s done and mindful of the rules and regulations governing nonprofit advocacy.

The Voice of San Diego, a nonprofit reader-supported news organization based in that city, reported on Tara Jones, who leads the National Women Veterans Association of America (NWVAA). She made a dramatic about-face during the sexual harassment scandal that took down Filner’s mayoralty, going from leading a group set to celebrate his work at a big fundraiser to publicly calling for his resignation, including selling “Please Resign!” T-shirts on the organization’s website.

“But in actively working to oust one man from his job, Jones may have stepped outside the bounds of her own as the leader of a tax-exempt charity,” reported the Voice, which went on to tell of a local grant-writing firm that severed ties with the NWVAA and filed three complaints with the California attorney general’s office, including one alleging that the veterans group violated federal law by engaging in overtly political acts aimed at removing Filner from office.

As all nonprofit leaders should know, the Internal Revenue Code prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofits from participating in efforts to elect or defeat a candidate for public office. If there had been a recall, Filner would have been a candidate for his own office.

“A 501(c)(3) cannot engage in partisan political activity under any circumstances,” Pat Libby, a professor at the University of San Diego’s Nonprofit Institute, told the Voice. “It’s forbidden by law.” (Full Story

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