Governor Rick Snyder has funded candidate-specific television ads that will run in six state house districts this fall. The ads are funded through his 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization.
Federal law provides that a 501(c)(4) organization must be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” 20 U.S.C. § 501(c)(4)(A). In turn, the IRS regulations promulgated under § 501(c) provide that “[t]he promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” 26 C.F.R. § 1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii).
I know that Snyder’s organization has characterized its TV commercials as “issue ads.” Further, I realize that the ads do not specifically ask viewers to “vote for” the featured candidates. However, wouldn’t most reasonable people conclude that these candidate-specific ads, broadcast only 50 days before the general election, constitute “indirect . . . intervention . . . on behalf of . . . [a] candidate for public office”? And if so, isn’t Snyder violating the spirit of the law?
It’s just something to think about.