FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT LOBBYING AND CILS
by Bob Michaels
"It's easy to tell if a center's doing strong advocacy.
Someone from the state is telling them they're not allowed to lobby."
This FAQ addresses lobbying questions which have been raised during our
training programs, technical assistance calls, and consultant work. It
was originally developed in May 1997. We have just revised it in response
to amendments made to OMB Circular A-122.
In developing this FAQ, a study was conducted of pertinent regulations
of the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education, and then
the answers were reviewed with an attorney specializing in lobbying issues
and with John Nelson, chief of Independent Living Branch of Rehabilitation
Services Administration and other officials of the Department of Education.
We hope you find this FAQ useful, and we welcome any recommendations for
improving it that you care to offer.
1. Are centers for independent living allowed to lobby?
Yes, CILs may lobby; however, the types of lobbying activities that are
permissible vary, depending on whether they are supported with federal
or non-federal funds. In addition, a CIL's lobbying activities may be
further limited by Internal Revenue Service regulations applicable to
2. What statutes or regulations do centers need to follow
with regard to lobbying?
- The federal government requires granting and contracting agencies,
such as the Department of Education, to follow guidelines set out in
the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-122 (as amended
in August 1997) when awarding federal funds. Additional restrictions
may be found in Department of Education regulations 34 CFR Part 82.
- Centers may elect to follow guidelines set out in regulations developed
under the Internal Revenue Code, Sections 501(h) and 4911.
- Centers which employ lobbyists or direct considerable funds to lobbying
activities must meet reporting requirements set out in the Lobbying
Disclosure Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-65).
While requirements contained in these three documents will be covered
remainder of this FAQ, there may be other federal, state, or local laws
which affect the lobbying activities of a center. Center staff should
in their states which regulate activities of nonprofits and request provisions
to lobbying activities.
It is imperative that center staff have a thorough understanding of these
regulations whenever issues of compliance are raised--andalways get a
3. I have been told that centers which receive Title VII
funds are restricted from lobbying. Is this true?
Except as described in #5 below, CILs that receive Title VII funds are
restricted from using Title VII as well as other federal funds to engage
in lobbying activities. However, as stated above, centers may use nonfederal
funds to engage in lobbying activities.
4. What lobbying activities may not be supported with federal
Briefly, lobbying activities which cannot be supported with federal funds
- Attempts to influence the outcome of any federal, state, or local
election, referendum, initiative, or similar procedure;
- Supporting in any way a political party, campaign, political action
committee, or other organization established for the purpose of influencing
the outcome of elections;
- Any attempt to influence the introduction, enactment, or modification
of federal or state legislation, including efforts to utilize state
or local officials to engage in similar activities;
- Any attempt to influence the introduction, enactment, or modification
of federal or state legislation by trying to gain the support of part
or all of the general public;
- Legislative liaison activities in support of unallowable lobbying
- Any attempt to influence an executive or legislative branch official
with respect to any grant, contract, loan, or cooperative agreement.
It is important to note that activities that may not be supported by
a center's federal funds may be supported by its nonfederal funds.
5. What lobbying activities may be supported with federal
Non-restricted lobbying activities (that is, those lobbying activities
which can be supported with federal funds) include:
- Providing a presentation through hearing testimony, statements, or
response to a documented request, if the information needed for the
presentation is readily available. Costs for travel, lodging, and meals
are not allowed unless testimony is given in response a written request
from the chairman or ranking minority member of a Congressional committee
- Lobbying to influence state legislation, in order to reduce directly
the cost of
performing the grant or contract or to avoid impairing the organization's
ability to do so;
- Any activity specifically authorized by statute to be undertaken
with funds from the grant, contract, or other agreement.
6. Will we jeopardize our center's 501(c)(3) status if we
There are really two questions which must be answered: Is the activity
under consideration really lobbying and does lobbying constitute a substantial
portion of what the center does, under IRS rules.
Question One: Are the center's activities lobbying or something
Direct lobbying is defined in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and regulations
as "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."
This includes such obvious activities as contact with a legislator about
a specific piece of legislation, advocating for increases in funding in
the budget, opposing a candidate for appointive office, and encouraging
the general public to support or reject an initiative, referendum, or
Direct lobbying does not include activities such aseducating decision
makers about issues of importance to people with disabilities, administrative
lobbying, surveying candidates for office, attending public hearings,
or even testifying if requested by a legislative committee in writing.
Nonpartisan analysis and self-defense lobbying also qualify as exceptions
under IRS rules.
A communication (with the general public or any segment thereof) will
be treated as grass roots lobbying if, and only if, the communication
(1) refers to specific legislation, (2) reflects a view on such legislation,
and (3) encourages the recipient to take action with respect to such legislation
(for instance, through a "call to action").
Question Two: Is lobbying a substantial part of what the
Centers can either elect to comply with IRC Section 501(h), which requires
filing papers with the IRS and reporting annually on lobbying activities,
or elect not to file under the law. Compliance with the law allows 501(c)(3)
corporations to expend as much as 20 percent of their funds for lobbying
activities depending on the size of the organization. Those choosing not
to file may only spend an amount which is not "substantial."
One court ruled that devoting more than five percent of an organization's
resources to lobbying activities was substantial.
So, why doesn't everyone file under IRC 501(h)? Because most organizations
haven't learned about it yet. The guidelines are far more generous, yet
record-keeping demands for day-to-day lobbying activities are virtually
7. How does lobbying differ from advocacy?
In the regulations for Title VII of the Rehab Act, advocacy is defined
as "pleading an individual's cause or speaking or writing in support
of an individual. . . . Advocacy may be on behalf of a single individual
. . . a group or class of individuals . . . or oneself." Note that
in this context, "pleading" is a legal term meaning "a
formal statement setting forth the defense of a case" (Random House
Dictionary). Advocacy, then, is action taken to convince others of the
rightness of your cause and of their need to join you in supporting this
cause. Lobbying is a subset of advocacy in that it is a set of activities
that plead a cause and set forth the defense of a case in order to influence
the voting of legislators. In other words, lobbying is advocacy with a
very narrow and specific focus--to convince legislators to vote as you
wish them to on specific legislative proposals. Thus, the use of the word
"advocacy" does not change the nature of what is or is not permitted
as a lobbying activity.
8. Where can our center get more information about compliance
with the Internal Revenue Code?
You can always try the IRS itself, but most of its information is not
written for people other than certified public accountants. One excellent
source of information we've found has been written by Greg Colvin, an
attorney who specializes in this area. You can contact Greg at Silk, Adler,
and Colvin 415.421.7555 to inquire about resource materials he has developed
regarding lobbying and the tax code. Other sources include Independent
Sector (1828 L, N.W., 1200, Washington, D.C., 20036, 202.223.8100); Alliance
for Justice (2000 P St., N.W., Suite 712, Washington, D.C. 20036, 202.822.6070);
and Chronicle of Philanthropy (1255 23rd Street, N.W., Suite 700, Washington,
D.C., 20037, 202.466.1200).
9. How does the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 affect
In most cases, it doesn't. Centers which attempt to influence Congress
or top federal executive branch officials may be required to register,
to report their areas of interest, and to specify the amount of money
spent on lobbying activities. A center is required to register under the
Act only if: 1) an individual employed or retained by the center makes
more than one contact and spends 20 percent or more of his or her time
providing lobbying activities for the center during a six month period;
and 2) the center's total expenses in connection with lobbying activities
exceed $20,000 in a six month period.
10. How may I obtain copies of the documents identified
in this FAQ?
The documents referred to in this FAQ are available through the Government
Printing Office or from your auditor or congressman. In addition, many
codes, regulations, and legislation can be downloaded electronically from
As you know, advocacy is one of the core services of a center, essential
to achieving the mission of promoting independent living opportunities
for persons with disabilities. This said, among questions most often heard
by IL NET trainers and technical assistants are what constitutes advocacy
and what distinguishes it from lobbying? This FAQ is intended to provide
the basics. If you need more information, be sure to contact an attorney
or your grantor agency.
This fact sheet was prepared by Bob Michaels with assistance from Laurel
Richards, Cynthia Dresden, and Dawn Heinsohn. We extend our appreciation
to Greg Colvin, John Nelson of the Independent Living Branch, RSA, Sergio
Kapfer, Department of Education General Attorney, Division of Educational
Equity and Research, and Susan Winchell, Department of Education Ethics
Counsel Staff for agreeing to review these responses.
Revised March 1998