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WASHINGTON (AFP eWire - April 12, 2004) - The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) submitted comments on Friday, April 9, to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking the commission to exempt 501(c) organizations from its proposed new rules on political committees and advocacy activities.

Because of the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or more commonly known as McCain-Feingold), the FEC is proposing new language regarding the definition of 'political committee' and 'expenditure' in the area of campaign finance. However, the definitions are so broad that they could potentially include charities and many of their traditionally conducted advocacy, communication and public education activities.

If applied to charities, the proposed rules would force charities to significantly and dramatically change the way they communicate, advocate and even raise funds. In some cases, a number of communications and education vehicles would have to be eliminated.

'The FEC rules may be appropriate for political committees and parties, but they simply don't make sense in the nonprofit context,' said AFP President and CEO Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE. 'The IRS has developed numerous regulations and information to help guide charities in these areas, and has even acknowledged that charities have a limited role in the political process through get-out-the-vote and voter education activities. The FEC proposal essentially ignores the legislative and regulatory framework in place and adds on additional burdens and requirements.'

Under the FEC proposal, the definition of political committee would be expanded to include any organization that has the influencing of elections as one of its primary purposes. While charities cannot have the influencing of elections as one of their primary purposes, the FEC rules give the commission several ways to prove that impacting elections is one of the organization's missions, including how much of its budget goes toward certain expenditures.

The definition of 'expenditure' would include communications where the charity 'promotes, supports, attacks or opposes' a particular federal candidate. However, the phrase 'promotes, supports, attacks or opposes' is not defined in the proposal, so it could include a letter to donors asking them to thank certain senators for their support of a bill. Communications asking individuals to contact federal candidates and urge them to support or oppose a certain bill also could be affected. Award activities, whereby a charity honors members of Congress for their work on a particular issue, also would be included.

Taken together, these expanded definitions would turn many charities into federally regulated political committees and limit their freedom of speech, especially on issues related to their mission.

AFP's comments ask the FEC to exempt 501(c) organizations from the rule and encourage the commission to focus on appropriate types of political entities. In its submission, AFP not only argues that the IRS has already created appropriate rules for these types of activities, but also that the FEC does not have the authority to apply sections of the McCain-Feingold bill to the nonprofit sector.

Hundreds of organizations have written to the FEC opposing the rule and its application to the charitable sector. The FEC is expected to respond to comments in May.

For a copy of AFP's comments, click on the link in the 'Attachments' section below. Please email with additional questions or concerns.


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