UPDATE — GOP changes venue again for candidate forum
UPDATE OCT. 23 9:15 a.m.— The planned meet-and-greet with Trumbull’s Republican slate of candidates has been moved again. It is now scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Fairchild-Nichols Library, 1718 Huntington Tpke.
The event was originally scheduled to be held at the Nichols Improvement Association. The association approved the use of its building on the understanding that it would be a bipartisan candidate forum. Upon learning that the event would include only Republicans, the group canceled the event, citing IRS regulations that 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are “absolutely prohibited” from participating in political events that would have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidate over another.
Republicans on Oct. 21 said there had been a miscommunication about the nature of the event, and announced that the forum had been moved to the Trumbull Historical Society, another 501(c)(3). Questioned about the choice of venue, GOP leadership stated that such organizations could in fact host single-party political functions, provided the group applied the same rules on event hosting to both parties.
But on Tuesday, party chairman Joe Pifko announced the event had been moved again.
More information when available. Original story from Oct. 21 continues below.
OCT. 21 3 p.m. — A planned Republican meet-and-greet had to be moved at the last second over concerns that the event would jeopardize the host’s nonprofit status.
The Trumbull GOP had planned the event for Nov. 2 at the Nichols Improvement Association’s Starkweather House, an 1867 house built by John Nichols and with a guest capacity of 45.
But when the organization’s officials saw the event announcement, they quickly canceled the meet-and-greet over concerns that the gathering violated IRS guidelines for 501(c)(3) nonprofit agencies.
“There was concern from our board, and our legal counsel, that we would be jeopardizing our IRS status,” said NIA President Richard Cerniglia.
While the nonprofit’s board approved a request to host a dual-party forum, the event had only ever been planned as a chance for Republicans to meet the public, according to Republican Town Committee Chairman Joe Pifko.
“It was a miscommunication,” Pifko said. “The person who booked the event thought it was going to be a debate-type forum, but the intention was always for it to be for just our candidates.”
When NIA officials saw the event listed on the Trumbull Times website as a Republican candidate forum, the group’s leadership pulled the plug.
Pifko said IRS regulations allow nonprofit agencies to host political events as long as the organization did not discriminate in which groups were allowed to use its facilities.
“They can rent their space to us, as long as they were also willing to rent the space to the Democrats,” Pifko said.
Under its charitable guidelines, the IRS states that all 501(c)(3) organizations are “absolutely prohibited” from participating in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elected office.
On its website, the IRS states that “Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”
Some activities, though, may not be prohibited, according to the IRS website. For example, voter education activities, including public forums, are allowed, provided they are conducted in a nonpartisan manner. Also, some other activities including voter registration drives are not prohibited “if conducted in a nonpartisan manner.”
But the IRS also explicitly states that voter education activities and forums would constitute prohibited participation if there was evidence that such events “(a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates.”
Republican leaders quickly moved the event, but chose another nonprofit organization, the Trumbull Historical Society, as the location. The Historical Society also is a 501(c)(3).
Society officials could not immediately be reached Monday for comment.