Balloon rides, pie-eating contests and sourdough pancake breakfasts will be among the Cove Cherry Fair’s offerings, but not politics.

Cindy Edwards, president of the Cove Community Association, which annually puts on the Cherry Fair, is emphasizing this in light of three inquiries and requests the event recently received from two political organizations and a candidate.

The organizations and candidate expressed interest in having booths at this year’s Cove Cherry Fair, set for Aug. 18. Edwards said all three were told they cannot have booths at the event. She said they were rejected for two primary reasons. One is the festival traditionally is about family fun and history, not politics.

“It has never been a political thing,” Edwards said. “We want people to relax and have a good time.”

A second reason is less subjective. Edwards explained the Cove Community Association wants to steer clear of politics in order to maintain its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status.

The Union County Democratic Central Committee, also known as the Union County Democrats, was one of the two political organizations denied an opportunity to have a booth at this year’s Cherry Fair. The Union County Democrats requested permission to have a voter registration booth. The booth would have given fair-goers a chance to register as a member of a party or as an independent, said Randy Knop, vice chair and acting treasurer of the Union County Democratic Central Committee.

Edwards said Internal Revenue Service rules prohibit organizations registered as nonprofits from being involved in political activities in which support is shown for one cause or candidate.

Edwards cited an IRS code that states all section 501(c)(3) organizations “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

The IRS code states violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

“We do not want to put our nonprofit 501(c)(3) status at risk,” Edwards said.

Knop said the voter registration booth would not have had the Union County Democrats’ name displayed anywhere and none of the volunteers would have spoken in favor or opposition to any political point of view. Any information on political parties provided at the booth would have been nonpartisan, identical to what the Oregon Secretary of State office provides voters. Knop said because the voter registration booth would have been nonpartisan, it would not have interfered with the Cove Community Association’s nonprofit status.

Indeed, the IRS 501(c)(3) code states that “activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.”

The IRS code also warns: “Voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”

This paragraph is what concerns Edwards. She explained that if the Cove Community Association allowed the Union County Democrats to have a booth, it would have to let other political organizations have booths. She said this would mean that any perceived slight could be interpreted as political favoritism under the IRS code.

“There is no way to show complete impartiality,” Edwards said.

Read the full story in Wednesday's Observer