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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Pomona College May Have Violated 501(c)(3) Tax Status To Fund Anti-Trump Student Protesters

PomonaThe Claremont Independent: Pomona College May Have Violated 501(c)(3) Tax Status to Fund Anti-Trump Protesters, by Matthew Reade & Ross Steinberg:

By funding the transportation of students to and from anti-Trump rallies in the Los Angeles area with tuition dollars, Pomona College’s Draper Center for Community Partnership may have violated IRS regulations prohibiting tax-exempt educational institutions from engaging in partisan political activity. ...

For one protest, which took place on Wednesday evening outside of Los Angeles City Hall, Pomona College’s Draper Center for Community Partnership organized buses to take students to the protest and offered to reimburse other students who attended for their travel costs.

As the Independent reported this morning, the Draper Center has also funded “anti-hate” rallies with anti-Trump undertones. But since these protests deal explicitly with issues rather than candidates, the Draper Center is likely within its legal rights to support them, even if some may object to an organization that espouses community partnership involving itself in political issues.

Wednesday’s protest at the L.A. City Hall, however, was explicitly anti-Trump. On Facebook, its organizers wrote that “[i]t is imperative that all people unite to resist this vile racist and sexist demagogue…. Only the people can put a stop to this. Let’s unite Los Angeles from day one to say, ‘Down with Trump!’”

Representatives of the Draper Center knew of and appeared to support the partisan objectives of the protest. In a post shared in several private Facebook groups for Pomona College students, the student coordinator of the Draper Center solicited attendees for the protest. “The Draper Center is organizing a bus that will take students to downtown LA TONIGHT to stand against Trump,” she wrote, linking to a sign-up form entitled “Bus Ride to Rally Against Trump in LA.” ...

As an educational institution, Pomona College is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This designation permits alumni to donate to the College tax-free and exempts the College from federal income taxes. However, this special status comes with certain conditions, including a prohibition on partisan political activity. ...

Funding opposition to a political candidate, as the Draper Center did, would appear to violate the IRS’ prohibition of partisan political activity by 501(c)(3) educational institutions. And in light of a recent campus-wide email blast from a high-level campus administrator promoting an anti-Trump march on campus, the Draper Center’s conduct is even more difficult to explain.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2016/11/pomona-college-may-have-violated-501c3-tax-status-to-fund-anti-trump-student-protesters.html

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Comments

I generally try to avoid commenting here, but I can't help it in this case. Universities are free under the law to fund student groups that engage in partisan political activities (including supporting or opposing candidates), as long as the university does not discriminate between groups it funds based on their politics. Also, professors are free to engage in partisan political activities, even using university funds to do so, as long as their support does not constitute support by the university. (universities are not generally required by law to permit professors to use university resources to communicate their political views). Finally, (much less important as a matter of law) once a candidate has been elected, then communicating support or opposition to that person no longer constitutes campaign intervention under section 501(c)(3). I'm not sure exactly how these observations relate to the facts described in the articles above, but they seem relevant.

Posted by: benjamin leff, american university | Nov 17, 2016 12:41:01 AM

Interesting. If this occurred after the Tuesday election, Trump was no longer a candidate for public office, so I'm not convinced this was political activity.

He continues to be a candidate in terms of the electoral college, so perhaps the actions violated the (c)(3) restrictions, but it seems a stretch.

Posted by: Steven Willis | Nov 17, 2016 6:27:34 AM

Nice to know that someone thinks post-election venting may actually influence future elections (beyond the usual petitioning the gov't)!

Posted by: wondering | Nov 17, 2016 7:50:29 AM

This is an alternative student paper at the school. Nothing wrong with that, and it's a good one, but the tax allegations are basically the opinions of a couple of undergrads. That's worth my time on this blog?

Posted by: Jim Harper | Nov 17, 2016 9:31:17 AM

Is this what is meant by a "fake news site?"
It becomes news when the lawsuit is filed,
doesn't it?

Posted by: Ed Shaw | Nov 25, 2016 5:42:26 PM