The Yale Daily News appears to have violated tax laws by endorsing Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, despite being prohibited from doing so as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization.
The nation’s oldest student newspaper describes itself as the “primary division of the Yale Daily News Publishing Co., which is headed by the News’ editor in chief and its publisher.” However, IRS records show that the Yale Daily News Publishing Co. is listed as a tax-exempt organization.
According to the organization’s 2014 tax returns (the latest edition publicly available), the Yale Daily News is listed as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, and is “operated for literary and educational purposes.”
The IRS makes clear that “tax-exempt organizations described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are prohibited from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office. Charities, educational institutions and religious organizations, including churches, are among those that are covered under this code section.”
“These organizations cannot endorse any candidates, make donations to their campaigns, engage in fund raising, distribute statements, or become involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any particular candidate. Even activities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate the political campaign prohibition of section 501(c)(3),” the IRS website states.
Despite being seemingly legally prohibited from doing so, the Yale Daily News went ahead and endorsed Hillary Clinton anyway.
“We do not endorse Clinton solely because of the disqualifying flaws of her opponent, Donald Trump, whose campaign has disgusted and astonished our board. Indeed, our endorsement of Clinton should come as no surprise: A recent survey conducted by the News found that a vast majority of students support her candidacy,” the newspaper’s endorsement states.
“We endorse her because we, as young people, recognize this election is a turning point for our country. And the choice couldn’t be more clear.”
When asked about the newspaper’s tax-exempt status with regards to its endorsement of Hillary Clinton, a spokesman for the paper called the whole matter a “misunderstanding” but repeatedly declined to either confirm or deny that the Yale Daily News is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization.
“I’m disturbed but not surprised by the Yale Daily News’ choice to explicitly endorse Hillary Clinton. It is generally accepted on campus that the YDN is a liberal publication, and the conservative writers at Yale either grin and bear the derision they receive on social media outlets from affiliating with the YDN or write for publications like the Yale Free Press,” said Quinn Shepherd, a Yale sophomore.
“Given that, the YDN’s choice to endorse a popular candidate on a liberal campus is confusing at best and senseless pandering at worst. No one on campus should be, and I would go as far to say will, make their decision on Election Day based on who the YDN’s Editorial Board is supporting. There is no need for the YDN to endorse a candidate except to receive the praises of Yale’s liberal chorus for their self-important appeal to a campus that is already vastly supporting Clinton,” she continued.
According to his Facebook page, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, David Shimer was a policy intern for Hillary for America. The paper claims he abstained from the endorsement process.
Yale senior Alexander Michaud said, “With regard to the tax law violation, I’m also not surprised that the YDN either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the laws that are relevant to them. It’s incredible the lengths they go to seem like a serious publication, going out of their way to be the only major student organization at Yale that is incorporated separate from the university, and yet they don’t know the first thing about good journalistic practices. The worst part is, I don’t imagine there’ll be any serious consequences, because the relevant authorities probably see it as a victimless crime. They endorse candidates all the time, and no one cares enough to call them out.
“Truthfully, I’m glad that someone is going after them for this, because at the end of the day the YDN is just a glorified college gossip rag. They don’t report controversies: they generate them. They take whatever story, significant or otherwise, and bombard the Yale student body with it until everyone thinks it’s a major problem,” Michaud continued.
“Their favorite words are ‘complaints,’ ‘controversy,’ and ‘outrage.’ They pick an issue, and they belabor it as long as people show interest, and then next year they pick a new one. A few years ago it was mental health. Then it was sexual assault. Now it’s the residential college names. They make tons of Yale administrators’ lives more difficult for no good reason, just so they can pad their resumes. They deserve whatever penalty the IRS wants to deal out, and then some.”
This wouldn’t be the first time that the Yale Daily News has seemingly disregarded the law in endorsing a candidate. In 2012, the newspaper endorsed President Barack Obama for re-election.
The paper issued a statement saying, “Our editorial board, like those of many college newspapers, expressed an opinion regarding the upcoming national election, as it did in 2004, 2008 and 2012. The editor in chief chose to recuse himself from that process and played no part in the board’s decision to support Hillary Clinton.”
One Yale alumni speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “This is also not the first time that the News has endorsed a candidate (of course, it always endorses the democrat). It’s disappointing but not surprising to see the country’s oldest student newspaper sacrifice journalistic integrity for whatever liberal position happens to be in vogue.”
Update: This story was updated with the statement from the Yale Daily News, as well as reactions from students.