updated 4/28/2004 1:54:26 PM ET 2004-04-28T17:54:26

The Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday reminded charities to steer clear of prohibited political actions during their election-year activities.

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Charities, churches, educational institutions and other nonprofit groups organized as tax-exempt organizations cannot participate in or intervene in any political campaign, nor can they advocate for or against any candidate for public office.

The organizations are prohibited from endorsing candidates, donating to campaigns, raising funds or distributing statements. Activities that encourage voters to support or oppose a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate tax laws for tax-exempt organizations.

Organizations may sponsor debates or forums to educate voters.

The IRS can strip tax-exempt status from an organization engaged in forbidden political activities, and the group can be forced to pay excise taxes on the money spent on that activity.

Donors cannot deduct contributions to charities that lose their tax-exempt status because of political activities.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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