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Some organizations claiming to be nonpartisan are truly such; others are nominally nonpartisan (for reasons of law or public perception) but closely follow the policies of a political party.
While the dictionary definition of partisan includes adherents of a party, cause, person, etc., in many cases, nonpartisan refers specifically to political party connections rather than being the strict antonym of "partisan", and an organization described as nonpartisan can have many decidedly controversial policies.
Today, nonpartisan elections are generally held for municipal and county offices, especially school board, and are also common in the election of judges. The unicameral Nebraska State Legislature is the only state legislature that is entirely officially nonpartisan.
Although elections may be officially nonpartisan, in some elections (usually involving larger cities or counties, as well as the Nebraska Unicameral) the party affiliations of candidates are generally known, most commonly by the groups endorsing a particular candidate (e.g., a candidate endorsed by a labor union would be generally affiliated with the Democratic Party, while a candidate endorsed by a business coalition would be generally affiliated with the Republican Party).
Churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations
Churches and charities in the United States were mainly formed under US Internal Revenue Service tax code 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. To maintain that tax-exempt status, and the ability for donors to take a tax deduction, they were required to remain nonpartisan.
This has caused some to question the ability of organizations that have the appearance of partisanship. Some predominantly African-American churches were seen as promoting Democratic candidates. Some predominantly white Evangelical churches were seen as promoting Republican candidates. Most churches regardless of color were seen to promote ballot measures that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The Brookings Institution is a Washington, D.C. think tank and 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Since its founding in 1916, it has had both identifiable Republicans and Democrats among its leadership. Owing to leadership changes such as this, some argue that it is a good example of a nonpartisan organization. However, others disagree; The New York Times has at times listed the organization as being liberal, liberal-centrist, centrist, and conservative. In 2008, The New York Times published an article where it referred to the "conservative Brookings Institution".
Therefore, in regard to organizations in the United States, it seems the only way a group can escape the label of being partisan, is to have no involvement with politics at all. There are many Churches and 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that indeed seemingly are completely nonpartisan. However, owing to the ever changing political leanings of their members, it seems there will be always be someone that loudly proclaim a group as being partisan.
In U.S. history, the Nonpartisan League was an influential socialist political movement, especially in the Upper Midwest, particularly during the 1910s and 1920s. It also contributed much to the ideology of the former Progressive Party of Canada. It went into decline and merged with the Democratic Party of North Dakota to form the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party in 1956.
In the history of Milwaukee, the "Nonpartisans" were an unofficial but widely recognized coalition of Republicans and Democrats who cooperated in an effort to keep Milwaukee's Sewer Socialists out of as many offices as possible, including in elections which were officially non-partisan, but in which Socialists and "Nonpartisans" were clearly identified in the press. (Such candidates were sometimes called "fusion" candidates.) This lasted from the 1910s well into the 1940s. (The similar effort in 1888 to prevent Herman Kroeger's election as a Union Labor candidate had been conducted under the banner of a temporary "Citizen's Party" label.) During the period of Socialist-Progressive cooperation (1935-1941), the two sides were called "Progressives" and "Nonpartisans".
In India, the Jaago Re! One Billion Votes campaign was a non-partisan campaign initiated by Tata Tea, and Janaagraha to encourage citizens to vote in the Indian general election, 2009. The campaign was a non-partisan campaign initiated by Anal Saha.
- The Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines nonpartisan as: Not partisan; free from party affiliation, bias, or designation. "Webster: Nonpartisan". Retrieved 2009-08-13.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd. ed, partisan
- Eyes wide shut: The ambiguous "political activity" prohibition and its effects on 501(c)(3) organizations, Houston Business and Tax Journal, by Amelia Elacqua, 2008, pages 118, 119 and 141, referenced February 16, 2012
- Glaberson, William (November 16, 2008). "Closing Guantánamo may not be easy". The New York Times.
- Next Generation of Conservatives (By the Dormful) by Jason DeParle, New York Times, June 14, 2005
- Silicon Valley's New Think Tank Stakes Out 'Radical Center' by Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, May 15, 1999
- ECONOMIC VIEW; Friedman And Keynes, Trading Pedestals by Tom Redburn, New York Times, September 24, 2000
- Marshall A. Robinson, 83, Former Foundation Chief, Dies by Wolfgang Saxon, New York Times, January 13, 2006
- Air Force's Newest Jet Fighter Is in Fierce Fight, in Capitol by Elizabeth Becker, New York Times, September 8, 1999
- The Way to Save New York Times, February 20, 2006
- "School Board Returns Even: Both Nonpartisans and Socialists Pick Five Candidates Each" Milwaukee Journal March 18, 1931; p. 1, col. 7
- "Fusion In Many Districts; Old Parties Unite On Legislative Candidates" Milwaukee Journal November 1, 1918; p. 9, col. 2
- Avella, Steven M. "Milwaukee Catholicism: Essays on Church and Community" Milwaukee: Milwaukee Knights of Columbus, 1991; pp. 43-44
- Wells, Robert W. This Is Milwaukee New York: Doubleday, 1970; p. 169
- Cibulka, James G. and Olson, Frederick I. "The Organization of the Milwaukee Public School System" in Seeds of Crisis: Public Schooling in Milwaukee since 1920 Rury, John L. and Cassell, Frank A., eds. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993; p. 104
- William Safire (2008-03-31). Safire's political dictionary. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- Charles Edward Russell. The story of the Nonpartisan League: a chapter in American evolution. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- Albert Breton (1998-09-28). Competitive Governments: An Economic Theory of Politics and Public Finance. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- Joan Campbell (1944-06-03). European labor unions. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- Leon D. Epstein. Political parties in Western democracies. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-01-25.