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Political campaigns from national down to local rely on contributions to operate. So you might feel that you deserve a tax break when you support the democratic process by making a campaign contribution.
But the federal tax code doesn’t allow you to take a deduction for any political donations you make. And the same is true for most states that have a state-level personal income tax.
Let’s look at why political contributions are largely nondeductible, and some alternative deductions that you might be able to take instead to help reduce your tax bill.
- Why can’t I deduct a political contribution?
- What counts as a nondeductible political contribution?
- Can a business deduct political contributions?
- Can I deduct political contributions on my state income tax return?
- So what can I deduct on my federal tax return?
Why can’t I deduct a political contribution?
While you might think a political donation should fall under the category of a charitable contribution, that’s not what the tax code says. In fact, the IRS specifically calls out political donations as something you can’t take as a charitable deduction on your federal return.
That’s because political parties, organizations and candidates aren’t considered charities (referred to as “qualifying organizations”) for purposes of federal income taxes. You can only take a charitable deduction for contributions to qualifying organizations such as …
- Religious organizations, including churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and others
- Federal, state and local governments, but only if your donation is solely for public purposes
- Nonprofit schools and hospitals
- Certain community service organizations
- War veterans groups
What counts as a nondeductible political contribution?
You can’t deduct contributions of any kind — cash, donated merchandise or expenses related to volunteer hours, for example — to a political organization or candidate.
Generally, individuals can’t deduct business entertainment expenses until the 2026 tax year, thanks to tax reform. And businesses are limited to deducting only a portion of the cost of business meals. But even before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the federal tax code specifically prohibited taking an entertainment deduction for indirect political contributions.
That means you can’t deduct amounts you spent to …
- Advertise in a program for a political convention or any other publication if the proceeds benefit a party or candidate
- Attend a program if the proceeds benefit a party or political candidate
Can a business deduct political contributions?
The short answer is no. While businesses, business owners and self-employed people often have more tax deductions available to them than individual taxpayers, in this case the same rules that apply to individuals apply to businesses.
Businesses are only permitted to deduct charitable contributions made to qualifying organizations — and, as we stated earlier, political campaigns, organizations and individuals don’t qualify as charitable organizations.
Can I deduct political contributions on my state income tax return?
In most states, you can’t deduct political contributions, but four states do allow a tax break for political campaign contributions or donations made to political candidates. Arkansas, Ohio and Oregon offer a tax credit, while Montana offers a tax deduction. All four states have rules and limitations around the tax break.
Many of the states that don’t offer a deduction for political contributions follow IRS guidelines for deducting charitable contributions.
So what can I deduct on my federal tax return?
While you can’t take a deduction on your federal return for political contributions, the federal government offers many other deductions. Some can only be taken when you itemize deductions, but others are available even if you don’t itemize. Like all tax deductions, these write-offs can help lower your tax bill by reducing your overall taxable income.
Above-the-line deductions are adjustments to your gross income that help you calculate your adjusted gross income, which is the starting point for calculating your taxable income. Most above-the-line deductions are available whether you itemize or take the standard deduction.
Learn more about some above-the-line deductions.
- Student loan interest deduction: Can you take it?
- Educator expense deduction: What teachers need to know
- Tax deductible expenses for self-employed people
- Your IRA contributions and your taxes: Things to know
If you itemize deductions on Schedule A, there are even more opportunities to reduce your taxable income.
Deductions for homeowners
Home-related expenses can be among the biggest bills you pay each year. Fortunately, the federal government offers multiple tax deductions for homeowners.
Learn more about tax deductions for homeowners.
- Mortgage interest may be tax deductible
- Private mortgage insurance premiums may be deductible
- Buying a house: The tax impact of your new home
- Deductions for victims of natural disasters
Contributions to qualified charitable organizations may be deductible. In fact, starting for the 2020 tax year, you can take a charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 ($600 if married filing jointly) — even if you don’t itemize.
Learn more about taking a deduction for charitable giving.
- A tax deduction is one reason to make charitable donations
- How to make your charitable donations count
Medical and dental expenses
Itemizing deductions may also allow you to deduct qualifying medical and dental expenses, provided you meet the requirements for taking the deduction.
Learn more about the medical expense deduction.
- Medical bills that qualify for a medical expense deduction
- COBRA insurance costs may be tax deductible
State and local taxes
Federal tax law also allows a deduction for certain types of state and local taxes, including property taxes and income taxes or sales taxes.
Learn more about SALT deductions.
If you’re looking for a deduction you can take to help lower your taxable income (and possibly your tax obligation), contributing to a political campaign isn’t usually the way to do it. But making a political donation is one way to be involved in the democratic process, so it can still be a worthy way to spend your money.
And if you’re looking for an easy way to make a political contribution, both Uncle Sam and some states provide opportunities directly on your tax return. On the federal Form 1040, you can opt to contribute $3 per taxpayer to the Presidential Election Campaign without reducing your refund or increasing your tax obligation.
Relevant sources: IRS Publication 526: Charitable Contributions (2019) | IRS: Five Facts about Charitable Contributions | IRS Publication 463: Travel, Gift and Car Expenses (2019) | Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 | Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute: Internal Revenue Code | IRS: Credits and Deductions for Individuals | IRS: Definition of Adjusted Gross Income | IRS: About Schedule A (Form 1040 or 1040-SR) Itemized Deductions | IRS Publication 530: Tax Information for Homeowners (2019) | IRS: Charitable Contribution Deductions | IRS Topic No. 502: Medical and Dental Expenses | IRS Topic No. 503: Deductible Taxes | Alabama Form 40 Booklet (2019) | Hawaii Resident Income Tax Instructions (2019) | Maryland 2019 State and Local Tax Forms and Instructions | Form 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (2019)
Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma Tax®. She has more than a dozen years of experience in tax, accounting and business operations. Christina founded her own accounting consultancy and managed it for more than six years. She co-developed an online DIY tax-preparation product, serving as chief operating officer for seven years. She is an Enrolled Agent, the current treasurer of the National Association of Computerized Tax Processors and holds a bachelor’s in business administration/accounting from Baker College and an MBA from Meredith College. You can find her on LinkedIn.