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Lobbying Do's & Don'ts
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"Charities can be and should be important sources of information on legislative issues."

– Senator Robert Dole on passing of 1976 Lobby Law


Do's

All nonprofits may legally engage in:

  • Direct lobbying:  Communicating your position on specific legislation to a legislator or government employee who may help develop the legislation.  

  • Grassroots lobbying:  Communicating your position on specific legislation to the general public, and encouraging them to contact representatives in support of or opposition to that legislation.  Grassroots lobbying only occurs when an organization reaches beyond its members to mobilize the public.

Additional Do's For Nonprofits That Take The 501(h) Election

Nonprofits that take the 501(h) election to come under the 1976 Lobby Law may also engage in the following activities without them counting toward lobbying expense caps:

  • Executive branch contacts:  Contact legislators or executive branch employees in support of or opposition to regulations, not laws.
  • Volunteer lobbying:  Mobilize volunteers to lobby on an issue. Only expenses paid by the nonprofit qualify as lobbying expenditures.
  • Member communications:  Communicate an issue or position to members or other constituents as long as you are not directly encouraging them to lobby.
  • Technical advice to a legislative body:  Respond to a written request from a legislative body to provide technical advice on pending legislation. Nonprofits may testify and take a position in their testimony.
  • Self-defense activity:  Lobby legislators on issues that might impact your nonprofit's existence, powers, tax-exempt status, or other similar matters.
  • Nonpartisan analysis, study, or research:  Provide nonpartisan analysis, study, or research to legislators.
  • Broad issues:  Discuss broad social, economic, or policy issues.

Note: Under the 1976 Lobby Law, communicating to the public about an initiative or referendum is treated as direct lobbying, not grassroots, because in this situation the public becomes the legislature. 

This is an advantage for nonprofits that take the 501(h) election, as the spending limit for direct lobbying is four times that of grassroots lobbying.  Read more about 501(h) election spending limits.

 

Don'ts

Nonprofits may not engage in:

  • Partisan political activities, such as:
    • Endorsing or opposing a candidate, or mobilizing supporters to elect or defeat a candidate
    • Align with or contribute to political parties

     

    Additional Resources: