What is lobbying?
The income tax regulations divide lobbying into two categories of communications — direct and grassroots.
Direct lobbying is defined as any attempt to influence legislation through communications with:
- Any member or staff of a legislative body; or
- Any government official or employee (other than a member or employee of a legislative body) who may participate in formulating legislation, but only if the principal purpose of the communication is to influence legislation.
Direct lobbying also includes attempts to influence the general public on a measure that is the subject of a ballot initiative, referendum or similar process; in that case, the general public is deemed to be the "legislator."
To be considered direct lobbying, a communication must:
- Refer to specific legislation; and
- Reflect a view on the legislation.
The term "specific legislation" includes both legislation that already has been introduced and specific legislative proposals that your organization either supports or opposes, even if no actual legislation has been introduced. For a ballot proposal or referendum that will be submitted to the voters, a proposal becomes specific legislation as soon as the first petition is circulated among voters in order to gather the signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot.
Examples of direct lobbying include:
- Meeting with legislators or their staff to discuss specific legislation.
- Drafting or negotiating the terms of a bill.
- Discussing potential contents of legislation with legislators or staff.
- Meeting with officials of the executive branch to influence testimony on a legislative proposal.
- Urging a Presidential or gubernatorial veto.
Grassroots lobbying is an attempt to influence legislation by influencing public opinion.
To be considered grassroots lobbying, a communication must:
- Refer to specific legislation;
- Reflect a view on the legislation; and
- Encourage the recipient to take action with respect to such legislation — that is, it includes a "call to action."
A "call to action" communication includes any one or more of the following:
- The communication states that the recipient should contact (1) a member or employee of a legislative body, or (2) any other government official or employee who may participate in the formulation of legislation, if the principal purpose of the contact is lobbying (direct call to action).
- The communication states the address, telephone number or similar information of a legislator or an employee of a legislative body.
- The communication provides a petition, tear-off postcard or similar material for the recipient to communicate with any such individual (direct call to action).
- The communication specifically identifies one or more legislators who will vote on the legislation as: (1) opposing the organization's view with respect to the legislation, (2) being undecided with respect to the legislation, (3) being the recipient's representative in the legislature, or (4) being a member of the legislative committee or subcommittee that will consider the legislation. However, merely naming the main sponsors of the legislation for purposes of identifying the legislation does not constitute encouraging the recipient to take action (indirect call to action).
Examples of grassroots lobbying include:
- An action alert urging recipients to contact their legislators about a pending bill.
- Attending a coalition meeting to help plan a grassroots lobbying communication addressing a pending bill.
The following are exceptions to lobbying and are not considered lobbying activities under the income tax regulations. Therefore, Mott Foundation grant funds may be used for the following:
- Nonpartisan Analysis, Study or Research. The communication must be nonpartisan — contain a “sufficiently full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts to enable the recipient to form an independent opinion or conclusion.” The communication must also be widely distributed (not only to persons interested in one side of the issue). Finally, the communication may not include a "direct call to action."
- Technical Advice or Assistance must be made to a government body, committee, or subdivision of either. The communication must be in response to a written request by such body. The communication must be made available to every member of the body. Opinions are acceptable as long as specifically requested by the body or related to materials requested by the body
- Organization Self-Defense is a communication with a legislative body or an individual legislator. It must be regarding one of four areas: existence of the organization; powers and duties of the organization; tax-exempt status of the organization; or deductibility of contributions to the organization. By contrast, a communication supporting the organization's programs or mission generally will not qualify as self-defense.
- Examination of Broad Social Issues is a communication regarding a general subject, which may also be the subject of specific legislation. The communication cannot address the merits of a specific legislative proposal. It also cannot involve a direct call to action.