In general, political contributions are not tax deductible. Regulations for campaign finance laws are complex, but the Internal Revenue Service takes a tough stance with taxpayers claiming political expenses as deductions. When it doubt, assume that if it's related to politics or a political campaign, you can't take it off your taxes.
Writing a check directly to a candidate, campaign or political party can't be used to reduce your taxable income. Contributions to political action committees or advocacy organizations aren't tax deductions either. Nor is money given to 527 groups that seek to influence the outcome of an election; in fact, the "527" refers to the section of the tax code that governs such groups and indicates they aren't charitable organizations. While membership dues to a trade association are deductible, you have to subtract the percentage that's earmarked for political activity. Fundraising event expenses and lobbying costs also will get you in trouble with the IRS if you attempt to deduct the costs of attendance.
Business owners can't itemize political contributions to reduce their taxable income. Moreover, the IRS also doesn't allow you to deduct the costs of promotions or advertisements that occur in the context of a political event or convention. Even if you're attending an event to help your company more than you are to express support for a candidate, it can't be used as a business expense.
No Break for Candidates
Political candidates don't get favorable treatment either. Candidates can't deduct their personal expenses on the campaign trail as business expenses. This includes travel to attend political conventions, travel and lodging expenses, and even filing fees. Whether the result is a win or a loss, political campaign expenses paid with a candidate's private resources can't be used as a tax deduction.
You can make contributions to a 501(c)3 charity and take those off your taxes if you itemize. These organizations can't directly lobby or campaign, endorse candidates, distribute information that expresses support for a candidate or raise funds for a campaign. They can, however, educate the public on issues and take positions on ballot initiatives.
While donations to advocacy organizations can't be deducted, many also have 501(c)3 charities associated with them. You might not be able to write off a donation to the National Rifle Association or the Sierra Club, but the advocacy groups both have charitable arms that you can give to for a tax donation. Such organizations have to strictly maintain separate balance sheets and operations, so your money won't directly support political activity.
- IRS.gov: Nine Tips on Deducting Charitable Contributions
- H&R Block: How to Capture Political Contributions on Your Tax Return
- TurboTax: Are Your Political Campaign Contributions Tax Deductible?
- Forbes: Ponying up for Politics -- Campaign Contributions Are Not Tax Deductible
- Kiplinger: What You Need to Know About Political Donations
- Forbes: No Debate -- You Can’t Deduct Political Contributions!
- The Wall Street Journal: Is Your Political Donation Deductible
- OpenSecrets -- Center for Responsive Politics: 527 Basics