Chapters or councils may not endorse or oppose any candidate for public office.
TU cannot endorse or oppose any candidates for elective office; nor can TU use its funds or any other of its resources (e.g., phones, computers, offices) to support or oppose candidates for elected political office. The prohibition is found in the federal tax code under provisions that regulate tax-exempt charitable organizations. It applies to the national organization, councils, chapters, and to staff and volunteers acting on behalf of or in the name of TU. While there is a variety of ways 501(c)(3) organizations can play neutral, non-partisan roles in the electoral process, failure to comply with these narrowly defined restraints could endanger TU’s tax-exempt status, and therefore the very financial foundation of our organization. Trout Unlimited’s exempt status is a hugely important asset that the Board of Trustees, staff, and volunteers are duty-bound to safeguard at all cost. Because the penalties are so serious, we want to act with an abundance of caution when dealing with candidates for office by detailing prohibited activity and strongly encouraging you to consult with TU staff before considering even electoral activity authorized for tax-exempt organizations.
In addition to complying with the prohibition against use of TU funds and resources for political campaign contributions, all TU volunteer leaders and staff must refrain from making any statement that has the effect of endorsing or opposing a candidate for elected political office in TU’s name. In addition to the obvious examples (“TU endorses Candidate A” or “TU opposes Candidate B”), please bear in mind that anything you say publicly in your capacity as a TU leader or staff regarding how you or someone else should or even might vote for or against a candidate for elected political office (“I, the President of a chapter of TU, voted Egalitarian in the last elections, but I’m voting for the Contrarian Party this time” or “You may have voted Contrarian last time, but as President of a TU chapter I think you should vote Green this time”) could be construed as a TU endorsement or statement in opposition. Even if you are careful to say that you are voicing a personal opinion and not speaking on behalf of TU, in the heat of a political campaign season, any such public statement of support or opposition may be construed as a statement by or on behalf of TU.
The above obviously places some limits on the free speech of TU volunteer leaders and staff, but it does not affect such private activity as making campaign contributions of personal funds or non-public statements of support or opposition to candidates for elected political office, or (obviously) casting your vote. Nor does it prohibit you in your private, non-TU capacity, from participating in election-related canvassing or other activities or hosting or attending fundraising events for candidates for elected office, but you must be careful not to use any TU mailing lists or other resources in connection with any such activity or event and must (obviously) observe the other precautions and prohibitions described in at tu.org/riskmanagement.
TU will continue to engage in advocacy efforts in pursuit of its mission, and doing so will at times will include communication regarding legislators’ positions on issues on which TU has long been working. At all times, but particularly during campaign season, such communication must be handled in a way that is consistent with IRS rules for 501(c)(3) nonprofits. There are numerous ways to engage legislators and candidates that, if done correctly, are well within the IRS rules, such as candidate forums, questionnaires, and issue-oriented presentations to candidates and their staffs as long as TU representatives treat each candidate with equal consideration, do not pass judgment on their positions and are in accord with TU’s mission. Please consider engaging in these activities in order to advance TU’s mission, but err on the side of caution, and contact volunteer operations staff before engaging in any kind of activity that could be construed as attempting to influence an election.