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Re: “Framing Issues Is Hard; Just Ask George Lakoff

Point of clarification: Federal law and regulations grant organizations like the Rockridge Institute which receive charity status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code certain room for lobbying and electoral activity without risking their tax-exempt status. That Rockridge Institute, like a fair number of other nonprofits, did not appear to fully exploit that advocacy latitude stands as a reminder of public confusion surrounding the nonprofit sector reflected in the piece above.

Under IRS regulations, "lobbying" represents communication to legislative bodies (or urging the public to contact lawmakers) intended to influence specific legislation. Communications towards other decisionmakers (including those who enforce the laws), and around broad policy issues don't count as lobbying. Charities providing public analysis or opinion as part of a campaign aren't engaged in lobbying unless they call upon upon legislators to adopt specific provisions of law; or ask citizens to engage legislators with respect to a certain legislative action.

Charities can also engage in electoral activity. Nonprofit activity on ballot initiatives or referenda campaigns are allowed, because communications target voters who, in turn, act as the lawmakers (i.e. "direct lobbying"). And as long as charities avoid indirectly endorsing or opposing specific candidates, they can find effective ways to participate in election year activities as well, including nonpartisan issue analysis, voter registration, and candidate forums.

For more guidance:

Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest -

Alliance for Justice

OMB Watch

Posted by Tan Reiner on 05/18/2008 at 6:26 PM

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