Friday, November 02, 2007

Tax-Exempt Status and the Knights of Columbus

The Knights of Columbus 121 Brighton Council hall at 321 Washington Street in Brighton Center has recently mounted two signs in the front of their building advocating for Greg Glennon for City Council (see photo at end of that post).

This "Catholic fraternal benefit society" appears to be organized, at least in part, as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt institution under Federal tax law as the Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc. Their property at 321 Washington Street is listed by the City of Boston as "exempt" from property taxes.

Under Federal law, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations "may not publish or distribute printed statements or make oral statements on behalf of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office. Consequently, a written or oral endorsement of a candidate is strictly forbidden." Harvard's Office of General Counsel further advises that "section 501(c)(3) organizations are strictly prohibited from participating in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. This means that organizations that are tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) cannot endorse or advocate for political candidates or parties." Engaging in such activity could lead to loss of the organization's tax-exempt status.

I wonder: are the Knights of Columbus 121 Brighton Council aware that posting candidate signs on their property might be putting their organization's tax-exempt status in jeopardy? It seems like a very high price to pay just to support a candidate for City Council. You would think that attorney Glennon would realize the legal implications of that political activity.

I bet they could put both those signs to equally good use by moving them to the front yard of somebody's (private) house...

EDIT:  L. B. Jefferies has told me that the signs now seem to be gone.

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