Are political donations tax deductible?

Couple sitting at home on sofa, discussing if political donations are tax deductibleImage: Couple sitting at home on sofa, discussing if political donations are tax deductible

In a Nutshell

The federal government allows many different deductions that can help reduce your tax burden — but this doesn’t include your political contributions to a party, campaign, organization or individual. And if you’re looking for state-level relief, you won’t find much help there either — only four states allow a tax break for political donations.
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This article was fact-checked by our editors and Christina Taylor, MBA, senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma. It has been updated for the 2019 tax year.

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?

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
Tax deductions vs. tax credits: What’s the difference?

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

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.

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.

Charitable contributions

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.

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.

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.

What’s next?

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)

About the author: With nearly 30 years of experience in media, marketing, public relations and journalism, Evelyn’s written about nearly everything — from newspaper accounts of salacious capital murder trials to whitepapers on what typ… Read more.