After the President's statement in favor of state's rights to legalize gay marriage, I came across this tweet from the venerable Public Theater in NYC. As per my last few posts, I have to posit the question, is this tweet legal? Here again is the language of the code, outlining the political activities that are forbidden to 501(c)(3) corporations such as the Public.
"(ii) Directly or indirectly to participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office"
Clearly the Public has distributed a statement (to its 15,000 twitter followers) with this tweet, but is this tweet on behalf of the President, a candidate for Public office? It seems to me that it is, it links to an interview and goes on to say that this theater, a charity, agrees with the candidate's position. When I tweeted back to the Public, suggesting their tweet was illegal I got the following reply:
Followed a moment later by this tweet:
So the position of the Public seems to be that they were just passing on the news, you know, in case anyone missed it, that the President had come out in favor of gay marriage. I think this very much misses the point. It does not matter how long the Public has supported gay marriage, or that they would happily tweet support of Mitt Romney if he made a similar statement. The simple fact is that this tweet, sent to 15,000 people, is the distribution of a statement on behalf of the President. Furthermore, this tweet had nothing to do with theater, it was not about a show, a playwright, a director, it was nothing but politics. It's interesting to note that the same video the Public tweeted a link to, is the front page of the Obama/Biden election website today.
My message to the Public is clear. You are charity. You are not allowed to do this. If you want to make political statements on behalf of the President, give up your 501(c)(3) status, and join the theater companies who do not take charity from the government, and reserve the right to say whatever we please.
A savvy reader hipped me to this document from the IRS
that outlines further the prohibitions on election activity for 501(c)(3) corporations. Some of it works against my argument, some of it works in favor. These are tricky issues, somewhat out of my depth, but my larger point is that if theater companies are going to accept charity, they should act like charities. There is every reason to believe that those companies who do not take public funds, should have much broader freedom of speech than those that do.