Updated May 15, 2012
More than 80% of the groups in the study (177) operate exclusively as nonprofit, tax-exempt
organizations.15 According to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, these groups are
restricted in the proportion of their activities and budgets they can devote to direct lobbying.16 These groups may not endorse or oppose particular candidates for public office, for example.
These tax-exempt groups are not prohibited, however, from drawing on religious principles
to conduct public education campaigns on issues or providing information from a religious
perspective to policymakers. Donations to 501(c)(3) entities are tax deductible.
A relatively small number of the groups
in the study (10, or 5%) are organized
under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code,
which allows them to hire registered
lobbyists and gives them greater leeway
to engage in direct lobbying efforts
in support of or against particular
legislation. Donations to 501(c)(4)
groups are not tax deductible.
Some 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations
create companion 501(c)(4) entities that
are allowed to engage in direct lobbying.
However, the two organizations must
remain legally distinct, and the 501(c)(3)
may not fund activities of the 501(c)(4)
that the 501(c)(3) would be prohibited
from doing directly. Similarly, some
501(c)(4) organizations create companion
educational foundations, which fall
under section 501(c)(3) and can therefore receive tax-deductible donations. One-in-eight groups in the study (27, or 13%) have
both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) arms.
For a full list of groups and their
tax status, see the online directory.
15 In June 2011, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it had revoked the tax-exempt status of approximately 275,000
organizations because the groups had not filed the required tax form for three consecutive years. Because the change in tax status
occurred after the Pew Forum had completed its research, the report and online directory do not take these revocations into
account. For more information, see the IRS press release at http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=240239,00.html. (return to text)
16 Groups that register as regular 501(c)(3) entities cannot devote a “substantial” part of their activities to “lobbying,” defined as
activities in support of specific legislative acts or public referendums. Some nonprofit groups – but not churches or private foundations
– can choose “h election” (501h), which is governed by an expenditure formula that allows greater lobbying effort as long
as it meets specified limits and percentages. (return to text)