The Barn is no place for political activity

The opening sentence of The Barn Theatre's history information on its Web site reads: "The Willmar Community Theatre operates as a non-profit community theater, locally known as 'The Barn Theatre.'"...

The opening sentence of The Barn Theatre's history information on its Web site reads: "The Willmar Community Theatre operates as a non-profit community theater, locally known as 'The Barn Theatre.'"

Therein lies the primary issue for The Barn Theatre. Its nonprofit status is not something to be put at risk or taken lightly.

The program printed for the theater's current production, Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park," contained some political statements.

One is a volunteer profile highlighting Bonnie Wilhelm, a longtime Barn Theatre supporter, volunteer and former staff member who also is the Republican-endorsed candidate for the House 13B seat. It contains a sentence saying she is running for election.

The other is a biographical profile about Wilhelm's husband, Dr. Rob Kruger -- who is also on The Barn's board of directors -- that appears in a section listing the show's cast and crew members. Kruger's four-sentence profile ends with the statement, "this fall remember to 'Vote wisely, vote Wilhelm.'"


It is unfortunate that actions by the theater's marketing director Tim Miller and volunteers Wilhelm and her husband Kruger could have put the theater's tax-exempt status at risk. Fortunately, due to questioning by the Tribune, the theater made the correct decision to pull the programs.

Certainly there was faulty decision-making somewhere. Definitely, Miller should have known better as the theater's marketing manager. As a current theater board member, Kruger should also have been aware of the nonprofit issue. And as a former theater staff member herself and as a political candidate, Wilhelm should have been aware of the danger of mixing politics with any nonprofit's status.

The theater maintains its nonprofit status under the Internal Revenue Service's 501(c)3 code. A violation of the code could result in an IRS inquiry and possibly the loss of the organization's tax-exempt status. The IRS issued a news release in June to remind charities of the seriousness of this issue.

The news release reads in part that 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. ... Political campaign intervention includes any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office. ... Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate, an organization delivering the statement is at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate. ... A communication is particularly at risk of political campaign intervention when it makes reference to candidates or voting in a specific upcoming election."

The Barn Theatre is a valuable community asset for Willmar and west central Minnesota. It is critical that it maintain its nonprofit status to help keep its budget balanced and operational.

The primary mission of the theater is to provide affordable, quality performing arts to west central Minnesota. That is the primary goal of the theater's board and many volunteers.

Political activity by anyone in association with the theater is inappropriate at any time.

Hopefully, the theater will continue well into the future with its nonprofit status intact, while the community and the region continue to enjoy productions, such as the current "Barefoot in the Park."

What To Read Next
Get Local