By funding the transportation of students to and from anti-Trump rallies in the Los Angeles area with tuition dollars, Pomona College’s Draper Center for Community Partnership may have violated IRS regulations prohibiting tax-exempt educational institutions from engaging in partisan political activity.
On Wednesday, November 9, the day after Republican Donald J. Trump became president-elect of the United States, anti-Trump protests sprung up throughout the country. Some of these protests were against the hate and violence activists have associated with Trump and his followers towards Jewish, immigrant, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities, among others. Some protests were against Trump himself.
For one protest, which took place on Wednesday evening outside of Los Angeles City Hall, Pomona College’s Draper Center for Community Partnership organized buses to take students to the protest and offered to reimburse other students who attended for their travel costs.
As the Independent reported this morning, the Draper Center has also funded “anti-hate” rallies with anti-Trump undertones. But since these protests deal explicitly with issues rather than candidates, the Draper Center is likely within its legal rights to support them, even if some may object to an organization that espouses community partnership involving itself in political issues.
Wednesday’s protest at the L.A. City Hall, however, was explicitly anti-Trump. On Facebook, its organizers wrote that “[i]t is imperative that all people unite to resist this vile racist and sexist demagogue…. Only the people can put a stop to this. Let’s unite Los Angeles from day one to say, ‘Down with Trump!’”
Representatives of the Draper Center knew of and appeared to support the partisan objectives of the protest. In a post shared in several private Facebook groups for Pomona College students, the student coordinator of the Draper Center solicited attendees for the protest. “The Draper Center is organizing a bus that will take students to downtown LA TONIGHT to stand against Trump,” she wrote, linking to a sign-up form entitled “Bus Ride to Rally Against Trump in LA.”
The Draper Center is not a student-run organization. Rather, like KSPC, the campus radio station, it is an organization staffed and funded by Pomona College. The College pays the salaries of the Draper Center’s staff, and Maria Tucker, the director of the Draper Center, also serves as an associate dean of students on campus. The Draper Center also receives funding each year from the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC), which in turn draws over 98 percent of its income from mandatory student fees.
As an educational institution, Pomona College is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This designation permits alumni to donate to the College tax-free and exempts the College from federal income taxes. However, this special status comes with certain conditions, including a prohibition on partisan political activity.
According to the IRS, “all 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” Although Donald Trump’s official candidacy for the 2016 general election ended on November 8th, he began accepting donations for his 2020 primary campaign on the 9th, the same day Pomona College’s Draper Center began organizing and reimbursing transportation to anti-Trump rallies. According to federal guidelines, this makes Mr. Trump a political candidate. The Draper Center’s actions also come in the context of an ongoing effort to persuade members of the Electoral College—the body of electors that officially selects the next president on December 19th—to vote for Clinton.
Funding opposition to a political candidate, as the Draper Center did, would appear to violate the IRS’ prohibition of partisan political activity by 501(c)(3) educational institutions. And in light of a recent campus-wide email blast from a high-level campus administrator promoting an anti-Trump march on campus, the Draper Center’s conduct is even more difficult to explain.
The Independent has reached out to the Draper Center for comment and plans to update this story accordingly