Basic Rules on Lobbying by 501(c) (3) Organizations

According to the Internal Revenue Code , nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status are organized “for charitable, religious, educational, or scientific purposes,” (IRS Tax Code) and these organizations are subject to the rule that lobbying cannot be a substantial part of their activities.

The organization’s articles [constitution, by-laws] may not “expressly empower it to devote more than an insubstantial part of its activities to attempting to influence legislation by propaganda.”

501(c)(3) organizations may not directly or indirectly participate in political campaigns by supporting or endorsing candidates for public office or by publishing or distributing statements on behalf of a candidate’s campaign. However, 501(c) (3) organizations may lobby as long as that lobbying remains an insubstantial part of their activities.

Direct Lobbying

Direct lobbying is communicating your views to a legislator or a staff member of any other government employee who may help develop the legislation. To be lobbying, you must communicate a view on a “specific legislative proposal.” Even if there is no bill, you would engage in lobbying if you ask a legislator to take an action that would require legislation, such as funding an agency. Significantly, if you ask your members to lobby for this bill, that also is considered direct–not grassroots– lobbying. People are considered members if they contribute more than a nominal amount of time or money. If a newsletter article that goes to both members and non-members urges them to take action, the amount you would need to allocate to grassroots lobbying would be only the percentage of non-members who received your newsletter. However, if you simply tell people about a specific piece of legislation and your position on it but you don’t encourage them to contact their legislators, this is not counted as lobbying.

Direct lobbying also involves trying to influence the public on referenda and ballot initiatives. In these cases, the public are, in essence, the legislators.

Grassroots Lobbying

Grassroots lobbying is trying to influence the public to express a particular view to their legislators about a specific legislative proposal. A communication is considered lobbying (a “grassroots call to action”) if it states that the readers should contact a legislator, or if it provides the legislator’s address and/or telephone number, or provides a post card or petition that the person can use. It is also considered a lobbying communication if you simply identify legislators who are opposed to or undecided about your view of the legislation, or identify that person’s legislators, or state who is on the committee that will vote on the legislation. (This is called “indirect encouragement.”) Simply identifying a bill’s sponsor (the “Istook amendment”) is not considered indirect encouragement.

Organizations that send out frequent “calls to action” urging their members to contact their legislators, organizations that employ an outside lobbyist or lobbying firm, and organizations that lobby through their employees should consult Section 501(h) of the Internal Revenue Tax Code for reporting rules and procedures.

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Procurement Lobbying

There are two main types of lobbying, the exact legal definitions of which vary from state to state. The first type of lobbying is direct lobbying. In general terms, direct lobbying involves a person or entity attempting to influence legislation in a way that favors the client. Direct lobbyists typically interact with legislators or government employees involved in creating legislation.

The other main type of lobbying is known as grassroots lobbying. Grassroots lobbying focuses on influencing public opinion in favor of  or opposition to particular legislation. This type of lobbying also encourages members of the public to take action themselves in a variety of ways, such as by contacting their elected officials or signing petitions.

Often ignored by the vendor community is Procurement lobbying. This is of particular importance as federal, state, and local governments purchase trillions of dollars in goods and services.

Procurement lobbying involves appreciating:

  • all procurement lobbying laws in the 50 states, the federal government, and more than 230 municipal jurisdictions, along with common-language descriptions of these same ordinances and statutes.
  • advisory opinions interpreting lobbying laws
  • pay-to-play laws on every government level
  • full descriptions of registration and reporting requirements
  • jurisdictions requiring registration as a lobbyist for procurement activities
  • contingent lobbying prohibitions by jurisdiction
  • summaries of gift laws;

and pre-RFP pursuit, meaning shaping upcoming procurements in conformity with the above points.

It can be difficult to find the right person to talk to in Government Agencies and companies. That’s a major reason why people don’t do pre-RFP pursuit. It’s also why many companies are in perpetual sales mode.

Before you can influence the RFP or gain pre-RFP customer insight, you have to make contact with the right people at the customer. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Past contracts. Sometimes the best source of data about future purchases starts by identifying who the buyers were for similar purchases in the past. So start with mining the data and looking up past contracts through online databases. The points of contact may not always be up to date, but it’s a good place to start.
  2. Associations. What associations might the customer belong to? Do they publish their membership or attendee lists? Do they hold meetings where you might meet face to face? Do they publish presentations or documents that might mention names?
  3. Councils, standards setting organizations, and committees. Are there any other organizations the customer might participate in? In addition to their membership list, do they publish minutes or other documents that might provide insight or contacts?
  4. LinkedIn profiles. Can you find your points of contact on LinkedIn? If you do, can you find their co-workers and business partners? In addition to searching by demographics, you can also search by acronyms, technical terminology, program names, functional terminology, etc.
  5. LinkedIn groups. Look up what groups on LinkedIn your customers have joined. If they post, see what you can learn. If they read, you have an opportunity to put words in front of them. Just simply knowing what groups they are in can provide insight. If you can’t find your customers’ profiles on LinkedIn, maybe you can find them in a relevant group.
  6. Trade shows and events. What trade shows and events do they host or participate in? Can you get introduced? Can you meet face to face? What can you learn? What can you demonstrate?
  7. Websites and org charts. Does the customer have a website? Does it name names? Does it have an org chart that can help you navigate? Can you do an image search for a relevant org chart?
  8. Publishers. There are companies that research, aggregate, and publish databases that include customer contact information. Some can save you a huge amount of time.
  9. Google. Learn how to use Boolean search operators. Then combine fragments of names, email addresses, titles, projects, technology, locations, etc. to see if you can find the needle in the haystack.
  10. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  If it’s a Government customer, you can try doing a FOIA for rosters, staff directories, points of contact, organization charts, committee memberships, attendance lists, etc.
  11. Teaming partners. Who do your subs or primes know? Can you get a referral or introduction?
  12. Alumni. Not yours. Theirs. Where did they go to school? Can you track them down through Alumni organizations or discover someone else who knows them?
  13. Certification registries. If their job requires specific certifications, are there lists or registries of people with that certification?
  14. Look for coordination points. Where does the customer’s organization need to coordinate with the outside world? That’s where people will be visible.
  15. Look for common interests, platforms, tools, and requirements. Show interest in their interests. Be where they will be. Then be helpful when they arrive.

Procurement Lobbyists can assist with all 15 approaches but most importantly they bring years of personal networking: a wide cast of personal relations to allow you to expand your network. Because it’s not about selling. It’s about getting to know each other and working together. It’s about professional development

Lobbying 101-The Best Time to Lobby

The Best Time to Lobby

Several weeks before a bill is considered at any level, Elected’s  and their staffs’ meet to plan strategies and take positions on a bill. If your lobbying effort is too late, a decision may have already been made. If you lobby too early, the impact of the lobbying effort may have been lost in the intervening time.

The best time to lobby is when a representative or senator is considering writing or sponsoring a bill that will benefit or harm your cause. If you make your position known at this stage, you have a greater opportunity to influence the legislation or even kill the Bill.

For example, Preservationists can participate in many different ways as a bill progresses through its many stages toward enactment. You should inform your representative or senators of your position on a bill soon after it is introduced and suggest any changes you would like to see made. If its positive for you, encourage them to show their support by becoming a cosponsor of the bill, or, if a negative, ask them to oppose the legislation.

Two or three weeks before a proposal is at a decision point in the legislative process, reinforce your position with a letter, phone call, e-mail, or personal visit..

Follow the bill’s process closely. You will need to reinforce your position with your member and other members as the bill reaches each step of the legislative process.

Lobbying during election time: Election time and during campaigns offer a perfect opportunity for grassroots lobbyists.  Candidates of both parties will spend time in their districts, giving you the chance to attend candidate forums, debates, or other gatherings to ask for their views on preservation to keep to our example. These public forums will expose preservation issues and the candidate’s stand on them to a broader audience. This is also the time to submit questions on preservation to candidates during meetings, public forums, or when they are canvassing a neighborhood. Try to elicit specific commitments of support. These become powerful lobbying tools later.

Candidates at all levels of government respond to voting power. Your vote can be a positive force. After the election, congratulate the winning candidate and offer your assistance on legislation affecting historic preservation.

Remember, a bill must be passed by both the lower and upper houses.  If your representative is not sympathetic to an issue, lobby your senator and vice versa.

Martin Milita is a senior director  with Duane Morris Government Strategies, a consultancy and lobbying firm that represents clients seeking the support of state- and federal-level government agencies. Commanding a career that spans more than three decades, Martin Milita possesses extensive experience serving private and public sector clients in legislative affairs and activities. Martin Milita holds a Bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics from King’s College and a Juris Doctor from the James E. Beasley School of Law at Temple University.

Lobbying 101.5: “Who & Where to Lobby”

Who & Where to Lobby

As a continuation of Lobbying 101 we now explore “who & where to lobby”. There is no restriction on how many members of Congress or your state legislature or a city council you may lobby. You will find, however, that your own state congressional delegation or your state senator or representative—those who are there to represent your interests—will be the most responsive.

Take Congress as the example: support or opposition can have the greatest influence at the committee level. Members of Congress who are not members of the committee handling your legislation have far less influence on how it is shaped. If your congressional member sits on a committee that is considering your issue, your lobbying will be crucial.

If your state is not represented on the committee, ask your congressman to speak with the chairman or members of the committee and endorse your position.

Remember, a bill must be passed by both the House and the Senate. If your representative is not sympathetic to an issue, lobby your senator and vice versa

Where to Lobby

Washington, D.C., Office: Your first communication to the office of a member of Congress is likely to be directed to the legislative assistant who handles your issue. The receptionist may not immediately know who that is, unless your member has consistently been involved with your immediately relevant issue.

  • Legislative assistants are generally scrambling to assemble briefings on short deadlines and not inclined to engage in extensive discussions or policy debates with constituents.
  • They want concise, well-organized presentations, including material on how this issue plays out in their member’s district.
  • They do not want long position papers that will take huge amounts of time to read and then summarize.
  • They are busy and focused on short-term demands, so if your issue is way off in the future, they will be less interested in speaking with you.
  • Keep your communications short and to the point, letting them extend the discussion if they become interested.
  • District Office: Senators may have six or so offices around their state. A congressman in a small district would only have one, in a larger district, two or three.

Staff members who work in the district office are not directly involved in the legislative process, however, they are a valuable lobbying resource. The district office is readily accessible and the staff is familiar with local issues. Usually the district director or another senior advisor is the member’s eyes and ears in the district and provides important feedback on the priority of local issues. The member’s schedule in his home district is usually arranged by these offices as well. Use District folks often.

Author Martin Milita, a Senior Director at Duane Morris Government Strategies, is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Bars and has lobbied state and federally and in Canada.

Duane Morris Government Strategies is a bipartisan government relations firm. Duane Morris Government Strategies represent clients before the federal government and in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Ohio. Duane Morris Government Strategies professionals offer a full complement of government-affairs services, including legislative and executive branch advocacy, policy analysis, assistance with government procurement and funding programs, and crisis management.

Duane Morris Government Strategies professionals have held high-level political positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations, and have run and played active roles in federal, state, and local political campaigns. They have also worked for members of Congress, congressional and state committees, and presidential and gubernatorial transition teams. Also at Duane Morris Government Strategies disposal are hundreds of seasoned attorneys from the Duane Morris law firm who have handled complex legal issues in the public and private sectors across a multitude of industries.