By their web links shall ye know them
The IRS says it's going to be watching to see if tax-exempt charitable organizations violate the rules against their getting involved in the political campaigns that are now under way and promise to rage on into November. Interestingly, one of the items on the IRS checklist is to see whether the exempt groups' web sites are linking to campaign or advocacy web sites, which is a sign that a violation may be present. Check out this memo, which reads in part:
Experience indicates that there are numerous cases involving potential political campaign intervention in the form of communications posted on Web sites operated by section 501(c)(3) organizations. Many of these communications include links to Web sites of other organizations. The analysis of cases involving links on a section 501(c)(3) organization Web site involves determining whether material on a linked Web site is attributable to the section 501(c)(3) organization.Hmmm... What is my "electronic proximity" to you?
There are several possible characterizations of such links. One suggests the link is akin to a referral from one source of information to another that the viewer can pursue or not pursue at his or her discretion. Another suggests the link is analogous to a distribution by the section 501(c)(3) organization of the information contained on the linked Web page. However, neither of these characterizations appropriately reflects the facts and circumstances in all cases, nor offers a single approach to resolving all such cases. As Revenue Ruling 2007-41 notes, the context for the link on the organization’s Web site matters, as does the directness of the links between the organization’s Web site and a Web page favoring or opposing a candidate. The principles articulated in the revenue ruling are reinforced by work on these cases which suggests that electronic proximity – including the number of "clicks" that separate the objectionable material from the 501(c)(3)’s Web site – is a significant consideration....
Where a case involves a link between a section 501(c)(3) organization’s Web site and the site of an unrelated organization (whether or not exempt), EO will pursue the case if the facts and circumstances indicate that the section 501(c)(3) organization is promoting, encouraging, recommending or otherwise urging viewers to use the link to get information about specific candidates and their positions on specific issues. Again, analysis of the context around the link is a key factor.
Further, where the facts and circumstances suggest that a section 501(c)(3) organization is using a link between Web sites (other than a link to a related section 501(c)(4) organization...) to indirectly communicate a message that could well be a violation of the law were it done directly, EO will pursue the case.