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Can 501(c)(4) organizations make independent expenditures to support Missouri state and local candidates?

The question itself mixes apples and oranges and creates undue confusion. The term “501(c)(4)” is a tax-exempt designation provided by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under 21 USC §501.

Missouri campaign finance laws (Article VIII of the Missouri Constitution and Chapter 130 of the Missouri statutes) make no reference to an entity’s IRS tax exempt status.

Rather than focus on tax exempt status for purpose of Missouri campaign finance laws, it is important to determine whether your 501(c)(4) organization is deemed a “person.” Under Missouri statute §130.011(22) and Article VIII §23.7(19) of the Missouri Constitution, the definition of “person” includes “group of individuals, corporation, partnership, committee, proprietorship, joint venture, …union, labor organization, trade or professional or business association, association…” If your 501(c)(4) organization is one of these entities, then it is a person for purposes of Missouri campaign finance laws.

If your organization falls under the definition of person, then you must determine whether it is required to register as a committee with the Missouri Ethics Commission. In this blog, I will not address the details of whether your organization should register as a committee.

If your 501(c)(4) organization is not required to register as a committee under Missouri law, it may make independent expenditures under $500 in support of, or opposition to, one or more candidates or ballot measures. Once aggregate independent expenditures reach $500 or more, your organization must report such expenditures within 14 days to the appropriate election authority (state or local).

Please keep in mind, this is a short answer to a complex question and should not be taken as legal advice. This is not meant to provide in-depth guidance for the circumstances surrounding any specific organization. To discuss your specific needs, please reach out to an attorney.

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