Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Are Tibetans in Minnesota right in denying venue for Lukar Jam's public talk?

Many have raised eyebrows over the denial of Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota's (TAFM) cultural center (or community hall) as a venue for the public talk by 2016 Sikyong's candidate Lukar Jam. However, the larger question here is not about the majority of general public's decision to not allow the venue for the purpose of political campaign initiated and supported by Friends of Lukar Jam - Minnesota. Rather, it's more about following the law of the land i.e. what is allowed and not allowed under the regulations that binds TAFM's activities in the United States.

Similar to many other Tibetan associations in North America, TAFM is a registered non-profit organization having a status of exemption under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. When you as an organization applies for the status of section 501(c)(3), you are prohibited or restricted from certain activities. Let me quote from the Internal Revenue Service document:

"No substantial part of the activities of the corporation (for example: TAFM) shall be the carrying on of propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and the corporation shall not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office."

Note: Most non-profit organizations in the United States are incorporated as corporation.

If you would like to read more into the details, please scroll down:

"Prohibited or restricted activities. Certain activities are prohibited or restricted for organizations exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3).  ...organizations exempt under section 501(c)(3) must:

Refrain from supporting or opposing candidates in political campaigns in any way.

An organization exempt under section 501(c)(3) is prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns, including campaigns at the federal, state, and local level.

Political campaign intervention includes any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office. The prohibition extends beyond candidate endorsements.

Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of an organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention. Distributing statements prepared by others that favor or oppose any candidate for public office will also violate the prohibition. Allowing a candidate to use an organization’s assets or facilities will also violate the prohibition if other candidates are not given an equivalent opportunity.

Certain activities will require an evaluation of all the facts and circumstances to determine whether they result in political campaign intervention. For example, section 501(c)(3) organizations are permitted to conduct certain voter education activities (including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides) if they are carried out in a non-partisan manner. In addition, section 501(c)(3) organizations may encourage people to participate in the electoral process through voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives conducted in a non-partisan manner. On the other hand, voter education or registration activities conducted in a biased manner that favors (or opposes) one or more candidates is prohibited." (Source - Internal Revenue Service)

Discussion and Recommendation:

As a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Tibetan associations need to understand the rules and regulations that binds the organization.  The violation of this particular "prohibited or restricted activities" may result in the suspension or revocation of 501(c)(3) status.  Moreover, it may also result in the closing down of the non-profit organization itself wherein you lose all organizational assets (including the community hall) to the federal, state or local government. 

Also read: 


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