NICE Can Lobby and Will Do So To Help You Save Your Dog

Posted on 03/22/2009

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Many people believe that non-profit charitable organizations in this country are not allowed to lobby their elected officials. The reality is that the federal government acknowledges, through regulations promulgated by the Internal Revenue Service, that non-profits do have the right to lobby legislators. More specifically, 501(c)(3) organizations such as The HSUS may actively seek the introduction of legislation to protect animals. However, the amount of an organization’s budget that can be used for lobbying is limited.Do not mistake lobbying elected officials on important issues with political activity or electioneering. Section 501(c)(3) organizations cannot participate in candidate races in any way. They cannot endorse or oppose candidates or contribute to a campaign; nor can workers for a Section 501(c)(3) be associated in an official capacity with a candidate. (Individuals may volunteer on their own time to help individual candidates.)

While non-profit charitable organizations cannot participate in candidate campaigns, they can actively participate in issue-oriented initiative campaigns. Twenty-four states currently allow citizens to put matters of interest directly before voters at the ballot box. The animal protection movement has been extremely successful in winning these votes in several states, banning trapping and certain abusive hunting practices.

For many years, Section 501(c)(3) groups were prohibited from engaging in a “substantial” amount of lobbying. This limitation was vague and worrisome as few groups wanted to test its meaning. These limits were modified, clarified, and somewhat loosened in 1976. Since that time, an organization can “elect” to abide by a sliding scale figure as its limit. Note: If an organization habitually exceeds this established limit, it can lose its tax-exempt status.

States also may impose restrictions on lobbying in addition to the federal IRS rules and regulations. Animal control organizations funded totally with taxpayer money are not usually allowed to lobby. However, if asked by elected officials to comment on pending legislation or existing law, they can respond and thus help protect animals.

There are thousands of animal protection organizations in this country that could have a tremendous impact on the positions taken by our elected officials. It is crucial to our efforts that these groups lobby to the fullest extent the law allows.

Knowing exactly how much you can lobby and understanding the rules surrounding these rules requires a certain amount of expertise. Your organization should have a lawyer to advise you on how to abide by existing rules.