Lobbying and Nonprofits
TWS is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization under IRS regulations. This means it must meet certain requirements or risk losing its tax-exempt status. One of these requirements is that “no substantial part” of a 501(c)(3) organization’s activities may be that of attempting to influence legislation (unless they “elect” – explained below)."
Important Information for Subunits that Lobby
If your subunit expends any funding on lobbying (for example, by hiring someone to represent the subunit either full or part time on policy issues), you need to report your expenditures to the IRS.
The first step is to know how much your subunit is spending on lobbying (as defined below).
- If you’re spending more the 5% of chapter resources on lobbying, then you need to file form 5768.
- If not, you still need to report the lobbying expenditures on Schedule C of Form 990EZ or Form 990 each year. Form 990N (the e-postcard) cannot be used by subunits that have accrued lobbying expenditures.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can 501(c)(3)s like TWS lobby?
Yes, to a certain extent. How much an organization can lobby is determined by whether it elects to come under the provisions of the 1976 Lobbying Law and file an IRS Form 5768.
- If we don’t elect to come under the provisions of the 1976 Lobbying Law, TWS can lobby as long as lobbying isn’t a substantial part of our activities. This may mean we can devote up to 5% of our resources to lobbying, but there is no clear definition agreed upon by the courts. TWS has never filed the Form 5768.
- If we elect to file the IRS Form 5768 and come under the 1976 law, TWS can spend on lobbying 20% of TWS’ first $500,000 of annual expenditures, 15% of the next $500,000, and so on, up to $1 million.
What is lobbying?
Lobbying is an attempt to influence legislation, including bills, referenda, and Constitutional amendments. It includes direct lobbying, which is any attempt to influence any legislation through communication with any member or employee of a legislative body or with any government official or employee who may participate in the formulation of the legislation and grassroots lobbying, any attempt to influence any legislation through an attempt to affect the opinions of the general public.
What isn’t lobbying?
According to the 1976 Lobbying Law, the definition of lobbying does not include:
- Actions by volunteers that otherwise meet the definition of lobbying, as long as there is no expenditure of funds by the organization;
- Contact with the executive or legislative branches in support of or opposed to regulations;
- Communicating a position in support of or against legislation to members of the organization, as long as the communication does not ask members to take action;
- Providing testimony requested by a legislative body;
- Making available the results of legislative analysis;
- Discussion of policy issues, as long as the merits of specific legislation are not addressed.
Does TWS lobby?
Yes, a small part of what TWS does is lobbying, such as when we take a position on legislation in a letter to a member of Congress. But much of what we do is not lobbying, such as publishing policy information in TWS’ various publications, distributing position statements, and communicating with the executive branch.