Is a 501 C 3 Organization Exempt From the Sunshine Law?

By Beth Anne Beckenhauer
Sunshine laws ensure public access to government files.

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Sunshine laws, also known as open records laws and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), are designed to ensure public access to government meetings, decisions and records. Organizations designated as 501(c)3 are private entities that are tax-exempt under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code. Open records laws do not apply to private organizations.

History and Purpose of Sunshine Laws

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. This federal law's largest revision occurred when it was amended by the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments in 1996 under President William Jefferson Clinton. All 50 states and some U.S. territories have similar acts. The purpose of these laws is to mandate access by members of the public and the media to governmental and administrative meetings.

Character of a 501(c)3 Organization

Under U.S. Code, Title 26, Section 501(c)(3), certain corporations and organizations are exempt from taxation. In general, these organizations must not be for profit and must accomplish a charitable or scientific purpose, or enrich the community in some way.

Application of the Law

Because 501(c)(3) organizations are by definition private endeavors, they are not subject to laws regulating governmental information. Sunshine laws are in place to provide the public access to the inner workings of government. They do not allow private individuals access to information pertaining to other private citizens.

About the Author

Beth Anne Beckenhauer is an attorney in Montrose, Colo. who has dabbled in personal injury, bankruptcy, and environmental law, but prefers research and writing pertaining the U.S. Constitution, personal liberties and property rights. She began writing professionally in 2010. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and political science from Ashland University, and a J.D. from Washington and Lee University.