Info You Can Use: What Is Lobbying and Can I Do It?

I wasnʻt looking for it, but I fortuitously stumbled across a post from last year on Charity Lawyer Blog regarding lobbying and what sort of activities constitute lobbying and what doesn’t. There are a number of activities that don’t constitute lobbying, many of which are obvious such as sending your season brochure to people or efforts made with one’s own resources and time. There are other nebulous areas which may leave one wondering if they qualify as lobbying or not that are addressed by writer, Ellis Carter. I have only included a short list of the permitted activities.

# Some communications with executive or administrative officials. Communications with executive or administrative officials or their staff where (i) there is no reference to a specific legislative proposal; (ii) no view is expressed on such a proposal; or (iii) the official or staff person will not participate in the formulation of the legislation are not lobbying.

# Attempts to influence regulations or other administrative or executive action. Attempts to influence regulations or other administrative or executive action (including those that are implementing legislation) are not considered lobbying, even if the recipient of the communication is a legislator. This is because the action sought is not itself legislation.

# Responses to legislators asking for technical advice. Responding to written requests from a legislative body, committee or subdivision (not a single legislator or informal group of legislators) for technical advice or assistance on pending or potential legislation is not lobbying.

# Nonpartisan analysis, study or research on legislative issue. Making available the results of nonpartisan analysis, study or research on a legislative issue (with no direct call to action if it is communicated to the general public) is not considered lobbying. This must constitute an objective, educational presentation but may express an opinion or conclusion as to the desirability of legislation.

# Discussions on broad policy issues. Discussions of broad policy issues requiring a legislative solution are not lobbying, so long as the merits of the specific legislation are not discussed.

While I knew that 501 (c) 3 organizations could lobby, I didn’t know that the amount they could expend was determined on a scaled percentage of the organization’s total exempt purpose expenditures. This gets a little complicated because there are different percentages for direct lobbying and grassroots lobbying and what sort of funds those percentages apply to so I will direct you to the Charity Lawyer blog entry for more detailed information.

The definitions of direct and grassroots lobbying, according to the blog are:

* Direct lobbying. Direct lobbying is a communication with a legislator, an employee of a legislative body, or any other government employee who may participate in the formulation of the legislation that both (1) refers to a specific legislative proposal and (2) reflects a view on that proposal.

* Grass-roots lobbying. Grass roots lobbying is a communication with one or more members of the general public that: (1) refers to a specific legislative proposal, (2) reflects a view on that proposal, and (3) includes a “call to action”, directly or indirectly encouraging the recipient of the communication to engage in direct lobbying.

Carter points to the Alliance for Justice website as a resource for more information on lobbying and advocacy.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “Info You Can Use: What Is Lobbying and Can I Do It?”

  1. This is fantastic stuff Joe, thanks for putting it together in one place. When I work with boards, I always like to spend time working on public affairs issue and lobbying is something that always comes up. Having some useful resources like this will come in handy!


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