Friday, August 5, 2011

Can a PTA leader endorse a local candidate?

I am well-known in my community as a leader in the PTA, and I’ve been asked to endorse a candidate who is running for the school board.  I would like to support this candidate, but I know that PTA is not supposed to get involved in partisan campaigns, but I’m not sure if that extends to nonpartisan offices such as school board.  What are the rules? 
You are correct that PTAs do not endorse candidates for public office, and that prohibition applies regardless of whether the race is partisan or nonpartisan.  This prohibition is in the Uniform Bylaws (Article 2, Section 1(a)) and also a requirement to maintain tax exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  While individuals who are PTA leaders are not prohibited from exercising their personal rights to be involved in the election process, they should take pains to make sure that such participation does not imply support from the PTA rather than from just the individual.  This would be particularly true in the situation you describe, i.e. the fact that you are well known to be a PTA leader may make it difficult for the average voter to distinguish you as an individual from you as a spokesperson for the PTA.  One step you can take is to not include your PTA affiliation in any printed material that includes your endorsement, or if reference to your PTA affiliation is necessary for identification purposes (“Which Mary Smith is it who has endorsed Candidate Jones?”).  If so the reference should include a statement that the PTA affiliation is for identification purposes, and does not imply endorsement by the PTA itself.  One final consideration, assuming you are in a leadership position with the PTA, is the impact of an endorsement of a candidate on your ability to be effective as a PTA leader if your candidate doesn’t win the election.  Unlike the endorsement question, this one doesn’t have a hard-and-fast rule, but you should definitely consider this aspect and perhaps talk to the others on your PTA’s board to get their perspective before making a final decision.