Lobbying – Don’t be intimidated, just know the rules

Lobbying your elected officials and getting others involved in lobbying is important to protecting water and the environment – but you might be intimidated by the word “lobbying.” Understanding what lobbying is -- and isn’t -- and what rules apply should help make you feel a lot more comfortable. A lot of people associate lobbying with wooing elected officials with expensive dinners, hard-to-get tickets to sporting events and shows, or extravagant trips. In fact, all that lobbying is, is expressing your opinion to a legislator on how you want them to vote on a specific piece of legislation. If you are expressing a general opinion that doesn’t involve a specific piece of legislation, it’s not considered lobbying.

There are, however, some important limits on lobbying activities by nonprofit organizations that you should know and follow. These limits are contained in the federal tax code, meaning that following them is important to retaining your tax status – such as 501(c)3 status – as an organization. If you are acting as a private citizen or your organization isn’t a 501(c)3, these particular rules don’t apply. Here are some notes and resources that can help guide you down the right path when it comes to your lobbying activities.

501c3 Lobbying Limits

Information taken from the Alliance for Justice "Worry Free Advocacy Workshop"

Definitions of Direct and Grassroots Lobbying:

See 26 C.F.R 56.4911-2
Direct lobbying is any communication with a legislator (or the public for ballot measures) that expresses a view about specific legislation. Grassroots lobbying is any communication with the general public (not members of your organization) that expresses a view about specific legislation and contains a call for action.

Calculating Your Lobbying Limits:
Total Lobbying Limit:

20% of the first $500,000
+ 15% of the next $500,000
+ 10% of the next $500,000
+ 5% of remaining (up to $1 million cap)

Grassroots Lobbying Limit:

1/4 of the overall limit calculated above

For more information:
The Alliance for Justice publishes several booklets that contain useful information regarding lobbying rules and offer very informative workshops. Click HERE to view Alliance for Justice publications available on their website.

Click HERE for a powerpoint presentation in PDF on "How to Stay Safely Within Your Legal Limits as a 501(c)(3)" by April Ingle based on Alliance for Justice information.