Myth: 501(c)(4)s must be operated “exclusively for the promotion of social welfare,” not politics.

While Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code specifically bars those organizations from engaging in political activity, no such statutory prohibition exists in Section 501(c)(4). Furthermore, while Section 501(c)(4) states that it applies to organizations operating exclusively for the promotion of “social welfare,” the statute does not define “social welfare.” Since when, in a democratic society, are nonpartisan get-out-the-vote drives, voter registration, voter education, and meet-the-candidates nights—all of which will be limited by the IRS’s proposed rules—not activities in support of social welfare?

The statute leaves it to the IRS to define “social welfare” in that context, and for half a century the agency has defined it to include political-campaign activity. The 501(c)(4) category has always been the home of political-advocacy groups.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.