Oct 13, 2023 - News

Ask Axios: Are church political donations legal?

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Catholic dioceses in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland have donated a combined $900,000 to Protect Women Ohio, an organization campaigning against November's abortion rights constitutional amendment, known as Issue 1.

This led reader Jason T. to ask: A bedrock principle of this country's founding was the separation of church and state. To me, this type of donation crosses that line. Shouldn't this donation be taxed, or disqualify the Archdiocese from its tax exemption?

State of play: It's true that campaign finance rules limit the political activities of churches and other nonprofit organizations.

  • Churches are barred from activity "on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office," per the IRS.

Yes, but: Issue campaigns are separate and permissible.

  • The IRS also states, "churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena."

The bottom line: This allows the Catholic Diocese of Columbus to donate money and issue public statements against the proposed amendment.

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