Advocating for your community is a very important job and one that should not be taken lightly. This can be hard when it comes to representing PTA and the rules and regulations. Because PTA is a 501c3 non-profit corporation, the IRS does not allow PTA to support candidates. If your PTA endorses a candidate you not only jeopardize your PTA’s non-profit status but the non-profit status of every PTA in Colorado. Here are some guides to help you through the process. There are things that you can do though to help keep your members and community informed as to what will be on this years ballot.
As education advocates for our schools and our students, we all know how important elections are. With several local candidate races happening this November, it’s important that PTA members are aware of the laws around what your PTA can and cannot do. Rules for PTAs are different during a candidate election than a ballot issue/measure, such as a Mill and Bond.
The IRS does not allow registered 501 (c) (3) organizations to support candidates. All PTA units in Colorado are registered 501 (c) (3) non-profit organizations. Therefore, if your PTA endorses a candidate, you not only jeopardize your PTA’s non-profit status, but the non-profit status of every PTA in the state of Colorado.
What PTAs Cannot Do?
- Support/endorse/oppose candidates.
- Make a campaign contribution to, or an expenditure for, a candidate.
- Rate candidates on who is most favorable to your issue(s).
- Let a candidate use the organization’s facilities or resources, unless those resources are made equally available to all candidates at their fair market value.
NOTE: While PTAs are prohibited by law from supporting or opposing candidates, PTA members are allowed to support or oppose candidates and engage in campaign activities on their personal time, as long as they do not present themselves as representatives of PTA.
What Can PTAs Do?
- Conduct or support voter registration – ask members to check their voter registration status and if necessary, register to vote at www.GoVoteColorado.com.
- Host, co-sponsor, and encourage members to attend candidate forums.
- Educate members on candidates – Rent the room and during a regularly scheduled PTA meeting and showcase campaign flyers and information provided by the candidates of a particular race, as long as ALL candidates were invited to participate.
- Encourage PTA members to do their own research by looking at candidates’ websites, campaign materials, reading articles in the media, and/or looking at the endorsements they have received from other organizations.
- Distribute nonpartisan sample ballots, candidate questionnaires, and election guides.
- Educate the candidates on PTA’s Position Statements, Resolutions, Legislative Priorities, Mission, and Purposes.
- Conduct Your Own Issues Advocacy – Write a letter to the Editor or post to the public information about your PTA’s goals.
- Educate Voters on the Voting Process -Educate your community on how, when and where to vote.
- Organize Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) activities.
- Encourage and remind members to vote on Election Day.
- Candidates for school board can be anyone who is registered to vote and lives in the district with a seat up for election.
- To be on the ballot for November 2017, candidates must request a petition from the school district on or after August 9, 2017, and turn it in with 25 valid signatures no later than September 1,2017.
- School board terms are 4 years long and staggered.
- Seats that are up for election in 2017 are Districts 1, 2, and 5 – currently held by Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell, respectively.
- Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell were elected in 2015 to fill the remainder of the terms of recalled board members elected in 2013.
- Districts 3 (Ali Lasell) and 4 (Amanda Stevens) will be up for election in 2019.
- Elections for school board members are in odd-numbered years.
- Elections are by mail ballot sent in mid-October
- Ballots due to Jeffco Elections no later than 7:00 p.m. on November 7, 2017.
What Candidates Can Do at Your School:
During the election season, candidates may be invited to appear at your school in one of three ways – in their capacity as a candidate, as a public figure, or on their own at a public event.
Your PTA may:
- Invite all the candidates in the SAME RACE. All candidates do not have to come, but all must be invited.
- If the candidate(s) accept your invitation, candidate(s) are attending as your guest, and campaigning and political fundraising are prohibited.
- If the candidate is already a public figure, he or she can be invited to speak in a non-candidate capacity (as an expert or currently held position), but no campaign material or mention of their current candidacy is allowed during the speaking engagement.
- Candidates can appear on their own at a public event held by your school or PTA, but do not give them the opportunity to address the event attendees or hand out campaign materials, and be aware that there is no implied or actual endorsement.
- Candidates can and may rent a table from the school to hand out campaign materials at Back-to-School Night, Curriculum Night, or a PTA-sponsored event.
501(c)(3) Status and Law- PTA’s CANNOT support/endorse/oppose candidates
Because PTA is a 501c3 non-profit corporation, the IRS does not allow PTA to support candidates. It is legal for PTAs to inform voters of an election and list ALL the candidates who are running. PTAs may hold candidate forums, as long as ALL candidates are invited. If your PTA endorses a candidate you not only jeopardize your PTA’s non-profit status but the non-profit status of every PTA in Colorado
While PTA members are free to do as they wish as individuals, PTA as a group cannot discuss in meetings candidates. If a member brings up a candidate or campaign platform during a PTA meeting, politely end the conversation and explain the restrictions of your non-profit status. You can direct members to other organizations that may be better able to provide them with answers to their questions
PTA’s CAN support or oppose ballot issues. If your PTA wishes to discuss or take a position to support or oppose a ballot initiative, pending state or federal legislation, decisions or proposals/resolutions brought forward by the Jeffco Board of Education, local units:
1) Must give your current PTA Membership fair notice (7-10 days) that a vote will talk place
2) Take and record a majority vote of the membership (not just your executive board)
Advocating for an Initiative
Colorado PTA prefers that local units help ballot issue campaigns by providing volunteer assistance with such things as literature distribution, yard signs, phone calling, etc., rather than making monetary contributions. Voter registration drives are encouraged.
The IRS does not allow local units to contribute more than “an insubstantial amount” of their gross revenue to ballot issue campaigns or lobbying. This is generally viewed as being between 2% and 5% of gross revenue. (Please note that this refers to the total amount given to all ballot issues and lobbying throughout the year.) Because all local units are part of the Colorado PTA’s 501c3, a transgression in this area by one PTA unit jeopardizes all units in the state! If a unit believes that it can reasonably make a financial contribution, it is vital that a vote be held at a unit meeting and the decision be recorded in the minutes.
Rent the Room
Advocating for PTA’s position or passing out literature on ballot issues may be done at school events/on school property only if the room is rented (or you adhere to whatever the district policy is). However, no school resources may be used for printing, mailing, or distributing literature advocating PTA’s position on ballot issues. Literature with PTA’s position may be copied at a location off of school grounds and may be mailed or handed out off of school grounds or at rented tables at school events. When mailing literature advocating PTA’s position, the mail may be sent only to PTA members.
As a non-profit organization, PTA’s primary role is to educate. PTA strongly encourages voter participation, since one of the purposes of PTA is to “secure adequate laws for the protection of children and youth,” and part of the mission of PTA is to “support and speak on behalf of children and youth in schools, in the community, and before governmental bodies and other organizations that make decisions affecting children.”
If your PTA does decide to take a position, or your members wish to participate in the campaign as private citizen…
During PTA or Accountability meetings, ask your principal informational questions about the impact to your school/articulation area and district overall. If you feel comfortable, share what you learn by using your personal email list to distribute information with your friends, neighbors and other community members.
For PTA Meetings, consider renting the room for your meetings so your unit can discuss the Mill/Bond with your members. Talk with your school staff on how to do this.
School facilities may be used for campaign events if the proper District policy to rent a table or room is followed. Consider renting a room or making a facilities request to have a table to share Mill/Bond information on school/District property during Back to School/Curriculum Nights, Parent/Teacher Conference Days, and at other school events.
Campaign signs and items, such as t-shirts, hats, buttons, car/lawn signs will be available soon. T-shirts, hats and other apparel can be worn on school property, even by students. School/District employees can wear and post campaign items outside of school but may have signs in their cars while parked on school/District property.
But Please Don’t:
Solicit a school/District employee to do campaign-related activities on school/District property and/or during school hours. Jeffco employees cannot work to promote or defeat a candidate or issue during work time or using work-related resources. They CAN do so on their own time, using their own resources.
Use any school/District equipment, such as photocopiers, fax machines, phones, computers, etc. for any campaign-related activity.
Send any campaign-related material advocating for the Mill/Bond, or an event for the campaign, home in a student’s weekly packet. This includes school newsletters, flyers, Friday Folders, etc.
Send emails with any campaign information to any Jeffco Schools email addresses or send staff emails with a signature line referencing or relating to the Mill/Bond. Ask for permission to send information to private email addresses.
Ask your child’s teacher or a school/District employee to wear/post campaign items at school.
Distribute yard signs or campaign literature on school/District property.
Place ANYTHING in a mailbox. This is a federal offense.
Questions? Contact Jeffco PTA Advocacy Chair Katie Winner at Advocacy@jeffcopta.org.