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501(c)3's should be allowed in politics if they disclose their political money

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/6/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,247 times Debate No: 56019
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (8)
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I will be taking the side that 501(c)3's should be allowed in politics and am looking for an opponent to say that they shouldn't be involved. Please feel free to disprove any of my problems with the current system or advantages.

501(c)3's are nonprofit tax exempt groups that operate for charity. They currently can't be politically active.

The founding fathers set up our country to be free and gave people the right to free speech in order to secure a free nation. However when the 1954 tax code revision was passed, 501(c) groups lost there right to be directly involved in politics. In 2010 The supreme court ruled in Citizens United vs. FEC that corporations have the right to freedom of speech in politics and granted it back to all 501(c)'s organizations except 501(c)3's.
It is because this fundamental freedom is being breached that I stand firmly that 501(c)3's should be involved in politics. But because of all of the controversy of dark money and 501(c)4's, 501(c)3's should be required to disclose their political money if they choose to get involved.

There are two main harmful problems with the way it is:
First, we are discriminating between speakers. From the very beginning our country has stood for equal rights for all however we are only allowing 501(c)(3)"s to speak and print things that are unbiased. They are not allowed to speak in any way that would support someone, however other nonprofit tax-exempt groups including 501(c)(4) groups are why not 501(c)(3)"s?

Second, the first amendment is being abridged. The foundational document of our nation is the Constitution which guarantees free speech to all (even groups according to the supreme court). But when we start denying the rights it give to groups and individuals we set our selfs on a slippery slop. Meaning that when freedom of speech is abridged for 501(c)3's how long will it be till individuals freedom to speak in politics is limited?

What would we ultimately gain by letting 501(c)3's back into politics? Well we would get a a more balanced political system. When you exclude any group from being involved in politics you are shutting out their voices. We wind up with a fake sense of what our political system is like. When you allow these groups back in you get a truer representation of our political system.

The second benefit we would get is less discrimination. By eliminating the barrier that keeps 501(c)3's out of politics we will be lessening the discrimination in our political system.

And finally we would be restoring the first amendment back to it's original place and ensuring that all people and groups get the ability to have free speech in politics.


Under the US Tax code section 501(c)(3), certain groups will be tax exempt. These organizations include:

"Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation, and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."
"Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes."

Given this designation, 501(c)(3) organizations must be meant for charitable and civic purposes, not political purposes. 501(c)3's are not started to engage in politics but to aid the community at large. There are other types of groups that can be formed to engage in politics, but 501(c)(3)s are not meant to engage in politics. Therefore 501(c)3's should not be allowed in politics.

My second argument is that the 1st amendment applies to people, ie HUMAN BEINGS, not organizations. Organizations are entitled to the freedom of press, but all other freedoms apply to individuals.The supreme court may have ruled that corporations were people, but the fact remains they are not. Political parties, and PACs are groups of people organized for a common goal IN POLITICS. Charities are organized to help the community. Charities have no purpose in politics and therefore should not be allowed in politics.
Debate Round No. 1


In response to my opponents first argument.
I do agree with my opponent on what 501(c)3's designation is (i.e. is "purpose"). However using his same logic, if I was a trash truck driver and aiding the community with my services, should I in turn not be able to engage in politics? The idea is somewhat ridiculous and would cause an outcry in the community if it was actually happening.
I would also like to point out that it is possible to have multiple purposes. For instance since I am a christian I have the purpose of obeying and glorifying God but I also have a second purpose, the obligation to study hard and do as well as my God given ability allows. Pretty much every group has more than one purpose. In fact every 501(c) group has the ability to speak in politics regardless of their purpose EXCEPT 501(c)3's! So why are we denying freedom of speech and press to one group based on their purpose?

My response to my opponents second argument is organizations are made up of people. Which means that in the current system people in groups are having their freedom of speech silenced simply because they are speaking together! I have personally worked on two political campaigns one in Wisconsin for a general election in 2012 and one in Virginia for a special election it 2014 with a group called Generation Joshua. On these campaigns I noticed that groups have way, way more influence in politics than individuals. That is why we need all different types of groups in politics so we can know what everyone wants not just what political groups want. Charities do have a purpose in politics and that is to provide us with what the people, the normal regular people want.
My opponent stated and I quote "organizations are entitled to the freedom of press" and I absolutely agree! However 501(c)3's can't even print things that are "unbiased" about politics. If they do they can potentially loose their tax exempt status. That sounds like a restriction on freedom of the press to me!

I would like to remind everyone what be the advantages to allowing 501(c)3's in politics. We will have less discrimination, a truer representation of our political system, and ensuring that everyone has freedom of speech and press.


My opponent has clearly not understood what I have said, and so I would like to make 3 points in response.
1) Organizations such as Political Parties, Political Action Committees, and caucuses may be allowed to be involved in politics, as that is their purpose, but the purpose of a 501(c)3 is to serve the community, not to influence elections 501(c)3 groups are allowed to lobby for legislation if it is directly related to their cause. For example the American Cancer Society is a 501(c)3 organization has take part in lobbying to state legislature and congress on legislation concerning carcinogens, healthcare for cancer patients and other legislation having to do with cancer. If members of a 501(c)3 wish to influence elections, they may form a tax exempt 501(c)4 organization, Planned Parenthood is an excellent example of this, as they are a 501(c)3 organization that provides free reproductive health services, but they also have a 501(c)4 organization (Planned Parenthood Action Fund) that advocates for pro-choice candidates and causes.
2) Organizations may be made up of individual people, but the organization itself is not a person. The individuals have the right to express their political views, but the organization does not have the rights as a legal entity. Therefore my opponents argument that organizations are entitled to free speech is nullified.
3) Finally, my opponent said and I quote "501(c)3's can't even print things that are 'unbiased' about politics", while this may have been a typo, this statement is incorrect. 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from publishing documents that ARE NOT politically biased. This statement is also slightly misleading. To the average American, politically unbiased means not stating a political view point in anyway, however the IRS defines "politically unbiased" as "not endorsing a particular party, or candidate." 501(c)3 organizations may make statements that may seem political to the average person, but legally the statement does not violate IRS regulations. For example the Jewish National Fund, a 501(c)3 organization that plants trees in Israel, is a well know Zionist organization which has previously made statements supporting US aid to Israel, but they have not ever endorsed a politician or candidate for public office, because said candidate is a supporter of Israel or Zionism.
Debate Round No. 2


I would like to start off by saying that I did understand my opponents points. My opponent basically stated that because 501(c)3's purpose isn't for politics they should not be able to participate in politics. I responded by saying you can have multiple purposes and that your purpose shouldn't effect wether you can participate in politics and gave the example of a trash truck driver. My opponent then did what I like to call "repetition without refutation". Basically meaning he repeated his argument again with out responding to what I said about his argument.
They truth is your purpose shouldn't ever effect what you can and can't do just because there is another group that can do it. It is true that there is organizations made with the purpose of political work however just because someone else can do it doesn't mean you shouldn't have the ability to do it as well. Using my opponents logic again, if I see the need for more doctors but I am currently a plumber then should I never me able to become a doctor because there already are other doctors and I am a plumber and have my purpose as one? No, I should be able to have the ability to become a doctor if I want to and still be a plumber if I choose to. The same is true for 501(c)3's. Just because there are other groups out there that have the ability to be politically involved doesn't mean that we should not allow one group not to be involved because they do something different. It's a form of discrimination which needs to be taken out!

My opponent also stated that that 501(c)3's can lobby on stuff directly related to them and that they can form a 501(c)4 underneath them. I will respond to both points starting with the first.
It is true that 501(c)3's can lobby (and I congratulate my opponent on finding this point) however my opponent forgot to state that there is a limitation to lobbying. 501(c)3's can only spend 5% of their time and resources on lobbying safely and 15% will jeopardize a tax exemption and any more than 15% will come with an immediate tax exemption revocation. Does that really sound fair?
My response to "if 501(c)3's wish to influence elections they may form a 501(c)4 organization" is that of ONLY SOME. It is true that some (c)3's may make a (c)4 organization under them however the process is complicated. Then there are the 501(c)3's that can't become 501(c)4's based on their purpose

"Therefore, an organization operating a bingo game could qualify for exemption under IRC 501(c)(3) if its primary purpose is to raise funds for charity but would not qualify under IRC 501(c)(4) because its primary activity is the operation of a business."

And lastly on this point there are certain implications to creating a (c)4 under a (c)3. They are listed bellow.

"In order for the two organizations to be recognized as legally separate, they must satisfy formalities that indicate they are distinct from one another.17 These formalities generally require the Section 501(c)(3) organization and Section 501(c)(4) affiliate to maintain separate organizational status and conduct all business between each other at arm"s length.177
To determine whether the two organizations are sufficiently separate, courts follow the thrust of the United States Supreme Court"s ruling in Moline Properties, Inc. v. Commissioner.178As a result, courts use the following four requirements.179First, the organizations must be separately organized according to the relevant state"s filing and registration procedures.180 Second, the organizations must keep separate records and bank accounts.181 Third, if the organizations have overlapping paid officers, directors or employees, their time must be sufficiently tracked and allocated to the organization for which the services were rendered.182Finally, the organizations must reasonably allocate shared property and services.183"

Some groups can't do this and it is therefor impossible for some (c)3's to make (c)4's.

Now I would like to respond to my opponents second argument (free speech). Since we are talking in the real world and wether 501(c)3's should really be involved it is incredibly important to recognize that unless my opponent can disprove what the Supreme Court said, then it is important to see that legally corporations are a single entity and are thus entitled to free speech and press. I would also like to remind my opponent that he never responded to my point that groups have more influence than people.

What I meant about unbiased information was that unless (c)3's want to have the possibility of having their tax exemption revoked that they can't publish any thing related to the people up for political office. There was a group that published preferences from unbiased people when they were given unbiased info on candidates. They had their tax exemption revoked.

Please no new arguments as I won't be able to respond


My opponent did point out that some 501(c)3s cannot form a (c)4 organization, but this brings me back to the issue of purpose. If the group is organizing bingo games, they would have not purpose in politics. I would also like to point out that the trash truck driver can serve multiple purposes in society, but this is a flawed analogy, as the trash truck driver not a 501(c)3 organization, but an individual. This individual is a natural being, not a purely legal entity. This individual is allowed to vote, and is required to pay taxes and (at times) serve jury duty. A 501(c)3 is not an individual, and is not entitled to the same rights as a person.

My opponent fails to account for this, despite his claims these groups are entitled to constitutional rights, does not account for this or the fact that constitutional rights belong to people. Therefore 501(c)3s are not entitled to constitutional rights.

For these reasons you should vote for the con in this debate.
Debate Round No. 3
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by deusdiligitme 7 years ago
Thanks you too! I really enjoyed it! How do you know so much about 501(c)3's if I might ask?
Posted by brendanww2 7 years ago
Well this was a let down, good job deusdiligitme
Posted by deusdiligitme 7 years ago
That would be great! It's election and tax reform so it's really interesting!
Posted by Khaos_Mage 7 years ago
O.O a tax debate!!!!
Maybe I'll take this.
Posted by deusdiligitme 7 years ago
I do agree that 501(c)4's do have a little too much freedom which is why I included disclosure in my debate proposal. And yes I agree with you money does not equal speech. speech is speech but money enables speech. However currently 501(c)3's can't even speak in politics! They can't publish any thing that has to do with politics, can't endorse a candidate, they can't even tell people if a candidate values the same thing as they do. For instance a crisis pregnancy center (501(c)3) can't say they endorse a candidate while planned parent hood (501(c)4) can. I think that qualifies freedom of speech being overlooked!
Posted by barnesec 7 years ago
I appreciate your response. In general I'd say there's too much money in politics as is. I don't believe money = free speech. I think 501(c)4's have slipped through a loophole in the regulations that was never intended to be there. Having said all that, disclosure is the minimum we should ask. People want to sling mud and not have their name attached to it. You want to get on a soap box, take the bag off your head.
Posted by deusdiligitme 7 years ago
Great question! Some 501(c)3's can become 501(c)4's the key word being "some". Your purpose effects wether you qualify for 501(c)4 status under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). There has also been evidence of the IRS refusing to allow some 501(c)3's to become 501(c)4's if they are from the conservative party. And then there are the 501(c)3's that simply can't qualify to become a 501(c)4 even if they wanted to because they don't operate for social welfare.

(see quote below)

By John Francis Reilly, Carter C. Hull, and Barbara A. Braig Allen, 2003, (writing for the IRS), Published by: "IRC 501(c)(4) Organizations", 2003.

"An organization is not operated for the promotion of social welfare if its primary activity is carrying on a business with the general public in a manner similar to organizations operated for profit. Therefore, an organization operating a bingo game could qualify for exemption under IRC 501(c)(3) if its primary purpose is to raise funds for charity but would not qualify under IRC 501(c)(4) because its primary activity is the operation of a business."
Posted by barnesec 7 years ago
What prevents a 501(c)3 from classifying itself as a 501(c)4? The definitions are fairly vague. "Social welfare" organization is a load of crap.
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