No, with a few exceptions. Foundations that engage in prohibited lobbying are subject to financial penalties imposed by the Internal Revenue Service. Certain nonpartisan research and discussions of broad social problems are not treated as lobbying even though they reflect a particular viewpoint. Under certain conditions, foundations may also provide legislative testimony and engage in so-called "self-defense" lobbying.
The four exceptions to lobbying restrictions for private foundations:
No. For these purposes, an activity that has to do with legislation is prohibited lobbying only if it constitutes "direct" or "grassroots" lobbying. The technical definitions of these terms are quite extensive.
Generally speaking, "direct" lobbying is a communication with a member or employee of a legislative body (or certain other government officials) that both (a) refers to specific legislation, and (b) reflects a view on the legislation.
"Grassroots" lobbying is attempting to influence the opinions of the general public about specific legislation. In order to be grassroots lobbying, a communication must (a) refer to specific legislation, (b) reflect a view on the legislation, and (c) encourage the recipient to take action, such as contacting his or her legislator.
Legislation-related communications that do not fall within one of these two definitions are not prohibited by the lobbying rules that apply to private foundations.
Yes, as long as the grant is not earmarked to be used for lobbying.
Lobbying by a public charity is not prohibited. In fact, the needs and issues addressed by public charities are often well-served by the lobbying and advocacy efforts of those organizations, to the extent allowed by law. A private foundation may make a general support grant to a public charity even if the public charity is known to engage in some lobbying activities and is likely to use some of the grant for that purpose.
Yes, as long as the grant doesn't exceed the budgeted non-lobbying expenses of the project.
When a grant is designated for a particular project, and the project involves some lobbying activity, the grant will not violate the private foundation lobbying prohibition as long as the amount of that grant, together with all other grants by the same foundation for the same project for the same year, does not exceed the amount budgeted by the grantee for project activities other than lobbying. In making this determination, the foundation is entitled to rely in good faith on the grantee's budget for the project.
Yes, within limits. "No substantial part" of a public charity's activities may consist of lobbying (see next question).
As a general rule, "no substantial part" of the activities of a public charity may consist of lobbying. The IRS and the courts have consistently declined to provide a clear rule about what constitutes a "substantial part." To take advantage of some more objective rules on this point, public charities (other than churches and certain church-related organizations) may choose to be governed by Section 501(h) of the Internal Revenue Code, which allows the organization to expend a specified portion of its budget for lobbying. In general terms, total lobbying expenses for a given year may not exceed 20 percent of the first $500,000 of an organization's expenses, plus 15 percent of the second $500,000, plus 10 percent of the third $500,000, plus 5 percent of the remainder, subject to an overall $1 million limit.
In addition, grassroots lobbying expenditures may not exceed 25 percent of the overall lobbying limit. These rules apply only if the public charity has filed Form 5768 — the half-page 501(h) election form — with the IRS.
An organization that employs an in-house lobbyist for federal lobbying must register under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act if it expects to incur, or does incur, lobbying expenses that exceed $24,500 in a semiannual period.
A "lobbyist" is a person who is compensated for multiple lobbying contacts and whose lobbying activities constitute at least 20 percent of his or her services for the organization during any six-month period. Registered organizations must file semiannual reports with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Separate requirements apply to lobbying firms and self-employed lobbyists.
Minnesota lobbying rules require the individual lobbyist to register, not the organization. However, organizations that pay lobbyists are required to file certain reports with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.