The original no-political-stands policy has a long history that emanated from the AOM's legal structure and from our identity as an organization. AOM is a §501(c)3 organization that is chartered in the State of New York and that operates under the laws of New York and of the United States. We are an international body in the sense that we have members from around the world, and it is our aspiration to deepen our international and global identity. Yet formally, AOM is organized for charitable and educational purposes in New York. We are approximately 18,000 members and a small staff of employed headquarters personnel that are charged primarily with administrative duties. The substantive work of the AOM occurs in 25 Divisions and Interest Groups (DIGS), 10 theme and activity committees, and six journals. The AOM's Board of Governors acts as stewards and leaders in organizational governance. Legally identified as a charitable and educational organization, the AOM is structured differently than other Associations that have other forms of non-profit status such as, for example, §501(c)6 organizations, which are trade associations and business leagues; or §501(c)4s, which are social-welfare and civic associations.
Organizations structured as §501(c)3s have a narrower scope for lobbying than these other forms of organizations and are subject to two relevant restrictions. First, they must not engage in attempts to influence legislation as a "substantial part" of their activities. In general, this limits the extent to which they may communicate with Congress, their members, or the public, in an attempt to influence the approval, amendment, or defeat of legislation. (See https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/lobbying.) Second, §501(c)(3) organizations may not "intervene" in a political campaign for or against a candidate for elective public office. This means they may not publicly endorse or oppose candidates, make contributions to a political committee, or otherwise use their resources to support or oppose a candidate. (See https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/the-restriction-of-political-campaign-intervention-by-section-501c3-tax-exempt-organizations.) The Academy's articles of incorporation say that we "will not, except to an insubstantial degree, engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of [the AOM's] primary purposes."
The AOM's identity as a pluralistic, Division and Interest Group-driven organization led the Board to adopt a policy of no political stands at least twenty-five years ago, and possibly much earlier. Early Boards of Governors implemented a policy of no political stands because they recognized both the diversity in member views on public policy and the challenge of coalescing those views into a single organizational position. The AOM also adopted a rule that no one, including the President, can represent his or her views as that of the AOM. As far as we can discern, before 2017, the AOM had never in its history issued a position on any matter in the public sphere, including, for example, the Vietnam War, the events of 9/11, or changes in European funding policies related to education.
Before the current policy, the AOM had no process by which to develop an organizational position. Our headquarters staff is administrative, and our elected officers are uncompensated volunteers with primary responsibilities as academics. The AOM's "thin center" model has been driven by pluralism, low fees, and member identity in the Division and Interest Groups, activity and theme committees, and journals. By contrast, many other Associations, especially those of our size, employ lawyers, policy analysts, and writers to issue statements on important public policy matters of concern to members.