Every two and four years, American Catholics begin the great discourse in the public square on the merits of issues, politicians and political parties for congressional and presidential elections. Catholic publications cover that national conversation in their news and their editorial pages. Some even open their pages to paid advertising of various political entities with myriad points of view.
As CNS reported this week in stories about public persons dipping into endorsements of candidates for the U.S. presidency, things can get tricky for individuals. It can get even trickier for Catholic institutions, such as parishes, schools, publishing enterprises and any organization that is considered not-for-profit by the Internal Revenue Service.
In the U.S., tens of thousands of Catholic entities are covered by the annual IRS group ruling that grants not-for-profit protections in the tax code — and imposes responsibilities. If you are going to be exempt from paying taxes, you have to play by certain rules. And those rules can be almost as confusing as the rules of the U.S. Postal Service.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a robust Web site that does an excellent job of explaining what Catholic organizations can and cannot do while participating in the political life of America. Put together by the bishops’ General Counsel office, the site covers just about everthing from endorsing politicians or parties to limits on lobbying to the perils of voter guides to what’s kosher in political advertising.
Check out the site at www.usccb.org/ogc/guidelines.shtml. In fact, it ought to be a favorite bookmark between now and the first Tuesday in November.