On the Record

The Ohio State law faculty offers insights and analysis on a variety of pressing legal issues in the news cycle. We share their latest through our On the Record blog. Quotes are available for journalists to use.

IRS releasing new guidelines for social welfare organizations

The IRS announced today that it will issue proposed guidance for tax-exempt social welfare organizations – also known as 501(c)(4)s – that would include a definition for the term “candidate-related political activity” and indicate that the promotion of social welfare does not include this type of activity.

Donald Tobin, a law professor at Ohio State, is a national expert on this issue and is following its developments, as the Federal Register is expected to post the new guidelines this afternoon.

“The IRS’s announcement that it is releasing a new set of guidelines is a step in the right direction,” Tobin said. “The IRS has been in a precarious situation. It has been assigned the task of policing the political activities of tax-exempt groups while at the same time risking the ire of tax-exempt groups and their supporters by enforcing the law. For too long, the IRS has tried to tiptoe around this conundrum.” 

The proposed guidance will allow for comments on other qualification requirements for 501(c)(4)s, including what proportion of the organization’s activities must promote social welfare.

“With this notice, the IRS has done exactly what it should have done. It has opened dialogue with interested parties about how to create a fair and balanced regulatory structure,” Tobin said. “Starting a dialogue on this issue is a great way to begin.”

Tobin is a senior fellow at Election Law @ Moritz, a nonpartisan program dedicated to the study of laws governing the ways elections in the U.S. are conducted, from voter ID laws to campaign finance to recounts. Prior to joining the Moritz College of Law faculty at Ohio State, he worked on Capitol Hill for the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, and for U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes. He teaches in the areas of federal income taxation and legislation.