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MailTribune.com
  • Too cautious?

    Manor's ban on candidates appears to be unnecessary
  • The Rogue Valley Manor is large enough, with 1,000 residents, that it makes up an entire voting precinct by itself. Its residents are well-educated, affluent and active in many community activities. So it came as something of surprise when Manor management canceled a scheduled campaign appearance by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is running for re-election.
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  • The Rogue Valley Manor is large enough, with 1,000 residents, that it makes up an entire voting precinct by itself. Its residents are well-educated, affluent and active in many community activities. So it came as something of surprise when Manor management canceled a scheduled campaign appearance by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is running for re-election.
    The Manor's executive director said the reason is the Manor's tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. The code prohibits 501(c)(3) entities from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaign.
    Manor officials are understandably leery of running afoul of the Internal Revenue Service. Losing tax-exempt status could be costly for the Manor and its parent corporation, Pacific Retirement Services.
    In this case, however, those concerns are overblown.
    Although it lies within the city of Medford, the Manor is essentially a community unto itself, with stand-alone dwellings, apartments, a skilled nursing facility and other amenities. It also has a number of meeting rooms.
    By merely providing a place for Merkley or any other elected official or candidate to meet with interested residents, the Manor as an organization is hardly participating in a campaign, even indirectly. Providing a venue is a neutral act, as long as no fundraising takes place and no Manor official or employee publicly endorses any candidate.
    A question-and-answer sheet published by the IRS, available online at http://1.usa.gov/1cCxbTZ, which provides several hypothetical situations involving organizations and candidates, makes it clear a 501(c)(3) organization may invite a candidate to speak at its own events — as long as equal opportunity is given to candidates for the same office, the organization makes no statement supporting or opposing any candidate, and no fundraising occurs. Merkley's appearance was organized by a group of Democrats who live at the Manor, not as a Manor event, so it's hard to see how it would violate IRS rules.
    The Manor's director also cited a PRS corporate policy prohibiting any of its assets or personnel from engaging in campaign activity. Again, merely providing meeting space can hardly be considered engaging in campaign activity, as long as equal access is provided to other candidates.
    Political candidates appearing at nonprofit venues is hardly unusual. For instance, when Barack Obama was seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, he spoke in Medford at Kids Unlimited — a nonprofit organization.
    It may be that Manor officials decided it was easier to ban all campaign appearances than to make sure the organization remained neutral. That would be fine, if unnecessarily cautious, except for one problem: Dave Dotterer, a candidate seeking to challenge state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, appeared at the Manor in January.
    If the Manor now says Bates may not appear, that would be a violation of IRS rules.
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