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7/07/2004 11:02:00 PM | Timothy

Past endorsements by The Dartmouth
Nathaniel Ward on Dartlog mentions The Dartmouth might have "may run afoul of federal laws governing 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations" by endorsing John Edwards. As commenters note, Guidestar.org seems to clearly note that The Dartmouth is a 501(c)3 (as is The Dartmouth Review). I don't know what federal law allows, but The Dartmouth seems to have to a long history of endorsing candidates.

In 2002, here's The Dartmouth Editorial Board endorsing Democratic Gov. Shaheen for a Senate seat, Republican Congressman Charlie Bass for re-election, and Democrat Mark Fernald for Governor. And here's an Staff Editorial right before the 2000 New Hampshire primary entitled "For the Democrats - Bradley / For the Republicians - Bush". I didn't see a general election endorsement in 2000, but in 1996, The Dartmouth clearly endorsed "Four More Years of Clinton and Gore" (though a few days later they also had a neutral editorial urging everyone to vote). (There may be earlier endorsements, but my thedartmouth.com archive search seemed to only go back to around 1993).

On the law, it appears that college newspapers are allowed to endorse political candidates, or least engage in some sort of political activity, if the newspapers are an organization not institutionally independent of the university (like The Dartmouth Free Press, which is recognized by and receives funding from Dartmouth). Why? Because it is the university that is a 501(c)3, not the newspaper. Such a college newspaper does not have any charitable status to revoke. Only the university does. It seems that if the editorial decisions are controlled by students and not administrators, then the university apparently would not lose its 501(c)3 status based on what a student editorial board said.

BUT, the same logic wouldn't apply to an institutionally independent college newspaper. That is, if The Dartmouth is incorporated itself as a 501(c)3, it would not be the college's charitable status that is in question, but the status of The Dartmouth, Inc. itself, no? TheDartmouth.com says that The Dartmouth is "Completely student-run and independent of Dartmouth College..."

For finer detail, here's a Winter 1997 Baylor Law Review Review article "Independent Institutions of Higher Education and I.R.C. ยง 501(c)(3)":
Revenue Ruling 72-513 involves a college newspaper that provided training for students in various aspects of publishing, editing, and managing a daily newspaper, including coverage of political news and the preparation of editorial comments. n56 Although several of the university's professors served as advisors to the newspaper staff, a majority vote of the student editorial editors determined the editorial policy. n57 From time to time, editorials took not only a position on pending or proposed legislation, but also on individual candidates running in a campaign for political office. n58

According to the ruling, these editorials did not violate the political activity prohibition under Section 501(c)(3) for two reasons. n59 First, neither the university administration nor faculty advisors exercised any control or direction over the newspaper's editorial policy. n60 Second, a statement on the editorial pages made it clear that the views expressed were those of the student editors and not of the university. n61

This ruling implies that the school's administration and its students are independent, thus preventing editorial comments from reflecting the views of the institution. The students at Imaginary University, rather than the administration, control the editorial views. As a result, Imaginary University lacks any participation or intervention with this political campaign activity. Therefore, Imaginary University's student newspaper may publish political editorials this fall without violating 501(c)(3) so long as the [*143] editorial views are solely within the control of the students and the students print a statement to that effect on the editorial page.

Neither IRS regulations nor revenue rulings have addressed whether publishing candidate endorsements or political cartoons during a campaign constitutes prohibited political activity has not been addressed by the regulations or revenue rulings. Candidate endorsements and political cartoons differ from editorials in substance and form. However, these methods of editorial expression are "commonly accepted features of legitimate journalism." n62 Accordingly, the publication of candidate endorsements and political cartoons in Imaginary University's school paper should likewise be a decision made solely by the student editorial board and the newspaper should contain a statement clearly delineating it as such. These actions will preclude any opportunity for Imaginary University to participate in a political campaign, thereby avoiding potential tax implications.




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