Grassroots Advocacy Legal Ease: Do’s and Don’ts for Health Centers
YES, Your Health Center CAN Lobby!And you should.More than 75 percent of a community healthcenter’s budget is determined by federal, state andlocal government decisions. However, there arelimits to what nonprofit organizations can do. First,you cannot use ANY federal funds to lobby.Second, you should keep lobbying expensesbelow five percent of your organization’s time andeffort.
What Is Lobbying?There are two types of lobbying and health centersshould use both when appropriate. Both are criticalto making an impact with your elected official.•Direct lobbying means you are communicating directly withthe official’s office and urging support or opposition to aspecific piece of legislation or referendum.•Grassroots lobbying means you are urging others tocommunicate with an official.
What Is Not Lobbying?Generally speaking, communications that do not advocate the passage or defeat of legislation or similar measures are not considered to be lobbying. For example: meeting with a congressman to provide objective and educational information about health centers, the need for primary health care services, and other general information is not considered to be lobbying. Also, responding to requests from a member of Congress for information or data is not considered to be lobbying.
YES, Your Health Center CAN Register Voters!• Registration drives must be designed to educate the public about the importance of voting.• Activities cannot be biased towards or against any candidate or party.• Nonprofits may target registration and turnout efforts to the areas or people they serve.
NO, Your Health Center CAN’T!• Support or oppose candidates for elective office (although you personally can).• Use federal grant dollars for lobbying or registration.• Endorse or oppose a candidate—implicit or explicit.• Contribute money, time or facilities to a candidate.• Coordinate activities with a candidate.
Resources to Help Clarify the Legalities of Advocacy• IRS presentation on non-profit lobbying: http://www.stayexempt.irs.gov/Mini- Courses/Political_Campaigns_and_Charities/political-campaigns-and- charities.aspx• IRS restriction of political campaign intervention by section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations: http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Charitable-Organizations/The- Restriction-of-Political-Campaign-Intervention-by-Section-501%28c %29%283%29-Tax-Exempt-Organizations• Q & A About Health Center Lobbying, and Advocacy Information Bulletin #8: Legislative and Political Advocacy for Health Centers, available here: http://www.saveourchcs.org/101toolkit