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Are Campaign Donations Tax Deductible?

Posted by on September 5, 2012
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Political contributions aren't tax deductible

Political contributions may help get your candidate elected, but they won’t get you a tax deduction

2012 is an election year – in case all the negative ads spamming the airwaves haven’t already tipped you off. And election season, like almost everything else, raises some very important tax questions, not all of them about Mitt Romney’s hidden returns.

With passions inflamed on both sides of the aisle, many Americans are so convinced that their candidate is the right one for the job that they make a campaign donation. An elect few are even running for office themselves, perhaps even out of their own pocket. It doesn’t take a tax geek to wonder what kind of impact these expenses will have come April 15.

We all know that donations to charity are tax deductible. For many people, the tax break from Uncle Sam is almost as big a motivating factor as altruism. It’s only natural to wonder if donations to a political campaign are tax deductible too.

The answer is no, political contributions are not tax deductible. You cannot deduct expenses in support of any candidate running for any office, even if you are spending money on your own campaign. Qualification and registration fees for primaries as well as a legal expenses related to a candidacy are not deductible either.

Here’s the official word from IRS Publication 529 [Miscellaneous Deductions]: “You cannot deduct contributions made to a political candidate, a campaign committee, or a newsletter fund. Advertisements in convention bulletins and admissions to dinners or programs that benefit a political party or political candidate are not deductible.

While we’re on the topic of money in politics, you should know that lobbying expenses are also not tax deductible. This includes money to

  • influence legislation
  • participate, or intervene, in any political campaign for, or against, any candidate for public office,
  • attempt to influence the general public, or segments of the public, about elections, legislative matters, or referendums, or
  • communicate directly with covered executive branch officials in any attempt to influence the official actions or positions of those officials.

Nor can you deduct the money it costs to research, prepare, plan, or coordinate any of these activities.

So what to do for you political junkies aching for a tax deduction? Donate to a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that supports causes you believe in. That way your money will still be used to fight for the issues you care about, and you can take a tax deduction too, a win-win!

There is one way in which political campaigns are tied up with your taxes, however. Your tax return will ask if you want to donate $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. This money is distributed to the two parties and their two presidential candidates every presidential election cycle. Electing to make this donation is completely optional and will not affect your tax liability or refund.

Ready to file a 2011 tax return late? PriorTax can help.

Photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University on Flickr. 

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