Campaign donation runs afoul of rules

FRONT ROYAL – A nonprofit group in Warren County likely violated federal tax laws by giving money to a candidate’s political campaign.

Now the candidate plans to give the contribution back.

North River District Supervisor Daniel J. Murray Jr. received a $250 contribution from the North Warren Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company on Sept. 3. Murray listed the contribution on his latest campaign finance report filed with the voter registrar’s office by Oct. 15.

The Internal Revenue Code forbids a 501(c)(3) from making financial contributions to political campaigns.

Jeanie Tharpe, treasurer of the volunteer organization’s board, said Friday that the agency’s leadership did not know about the restriction. A board member contacted Murray who then indicated someone from his campaign would return the money to the organization, Tharpe said.

“We honestly did not know that, as a fire department, we could not do that,” Tharpe said. “Had we known, we’d have never done that.”

The fire and rescue company is registered as a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization with the Internal Revenue Service. Information provided by the IRS states that “under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

The IRS information goes on to state that “contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position – verbal or written – made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.”

Reach by phone Friday, Murray said he received the contribution from the volunteer organization at a campaign event.

“I couldn’t tell you which entity the funds came from,” Murray said. “They came to a meet-and-greet I had, thanked me for my support and they handed that to me and said hope it helps. I don’t ask questions when there’s 50-60 people at a meet-and-greet about where does your funds come from.”

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances, according to the IRS. Certain voter-education activities such as presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides, when conducted in a non-partisan manner, do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner. The rules prohibit voter education or registration drives that show bias.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com