Cardin introduced a bill that would explicitly include newspapers among organizations eligible for 501(c)(3) status. The non-profit status is the same that public radio and television have now.
The legislation would give a national green light for newspapers to adopt the so-called Low Profit Limited Liability Company business model, often shortened to L3C.
The L3C model, which the Newspaper Guild supports as an alternative newspaper ownership model, is the subject of a feature story in the current print issue of Editor & Publisher.
Under Cardin's legislation, newspaper revenue would be tax-exempt, and contributions to papers would be tax deductible. The status would also allow non-profits to invest in newspapers, something that is forbidden now.
Cardin said action is needed to help preserve local newspapers.
"We are losing our newspaper industry," Cardin said in a statement. "The economy has caused an immediate problem, but the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy."
The Associated Press quoted him as saying on the Senate floor, "As local papers are closing, we're losing a valuable tradition in America -- critically important to our communities, critically important to our democracy."
Newspapers that accept non-profit status would not be allowed to endorse candidates, but they could cover political news just as they do now, Cardin said.