April 9, 2012
Guide to the IRS's Application of § 501(c)(3) to Journalism and Publishing Non-Profits
Jeffrey P. Hermes (Berkman Center for Internet & Society), Guide to the Internal Revenue Service Decision-Making Process Under Section 501(c)(3) for Journalism and Publishing Non-Profit Organizations:
Confusion about the IRS’s processes and standards has led to criticism of the IRS as being arbitrary in its decision-making process and adverse to the journalism industry. But while there have been controversial decisions by the IRS in particular cases, it is critical to understand that the IRS’s primary duty with respect to these applications is to protect the public fisc by ensuring that only organizations that meet criteria enacted by Congress are granted a § 501(c)(3) exemption. Although the IRS has some discretion in applying these criteria, it does not have the authority to recognize broad new categories of tax-exempt organizations, such as news outlets.
Until and unless there is action in Congress to facilitate tax exemptions for journalism non-profits, news organizations seeking § 501(c)(3) status must learn how to structure their operations to meet the existing standards applied by the IRS. To that end, this guide is intended to provide practical information regarding the standards that the IRS applies in determining whether to grant federal tax-exempt status to a non-profit organization under § 501(c)(3).
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