Revoke Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Tax Exempt Status
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is hosting a presidential forum on September 7, 2016 and did not invite Gary Johnson who will be on the ballot of all 50 states. He is polling at 9-12% nationally and is leading with 38.7% among active duty service members. This will be the first of any such debate between any of the general election candidates for the 2016 election cycle and is expected to have millions of viewers. This exclusion is in direct violation of the laws pertaining to eligibility for tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization.
The law clearly states that tax-exempt, charitable organizations, cannot participate or intervene in political campaigns, including by the “publishing or distributing of statements” for or against any candidate. 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3). The only way in which a tax-exempt charity may engage in voter education activities, specifically including presenting debates, is to conduct them in a non-partisan manner. See Rev. Rul. 78-248 and Rev. Rul. 66- 256; see also Rev. Rul. 76-456, modifying and superseding Rev. Rul. 66-258 (educational purpose alone not sufficient to justify otherwise improper conduct).
To conduct itself in a non-partisan manner, a debate sponsor cannot show “bias or preference for or against” particular candidates; there must be “fair and impartial treatment of candidates” without any promotion or advancement of some candidates over others. Rev. Rul. 07-41, at 2. So long as all candidates are invited, a tax-exempt charity acts properly in holding a debate or similar forum. Id. at 6; see, contra, id. at 5 (violation “likely” when a sponsor invites all candidates but hosts them at different sized events).
The only apparent basis for excluding a “candidate for public office” is to conclude she or he is not standing “as a contestant for an elective public office.” See 26 CFR 1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3)(iii). No distinction is made under the tax code, IRS regulations or any rulings or decisions among major party nominees, minor party nominees, and independent candidates.
Put another way, bi-partisan is not the same as non-partisan. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America cannot select some but not others from among all those who are legally eligible to, and capable of, competing for election.
If Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America wants to be taxed as a for-profit entity, they can select candidates they prefer without violating federal election laws (which require merely that the criteria be pre-established and objective), but they cannot select preferred candidates without violating the laws governing tax-exempt charities.
If Gary Johnson is not included as an equal candidate on the shared stage of the Sept 7th general election forum we demand that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's tax exempt status be nullified.
* Credit to R.J. Lyman of SOLIFICO for text from Aug 15th letter to Commission on Presidential Debates.
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