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Nonprofit Advocacy is LEGAL

First Amendment, U.S. Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The U.S. Congress says it’s legal for nonprofits to lobby:

  • In 1934:
    Congress enacted a statute allowing nonprofits “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable … or educational purposes” to be exempt from federal income taxes, provided that, among other things, “no substantial part of the activities of” the nonprofit organization is for “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation….” 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3).

    By setting a limit (no “substantial part”) rather than imposing an outright ban, Congress recognized the rights of nonprofits to do some lobbying. 
  • In 1976:
    Congress enacted statutes clarifying beyond all doubt that § 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits may lobby, establishing generous limits, providing clear guidelines, and creating other benefits:

    → 26 U.S.C. § 501(h), which allows nonprofits the option to elect to use the bright-line “expenditure” test rather than the vague “no substantial part of activities” test; and

    → 26 U.S.C. § 4911, which – just for those nonprofits electing to use the expenditure test – sets generous dollar limits on the amounts those nonprofits can spend on lobbying (a sliding scale that starts with 20% of the nonprofit’s first $500,000 in expenditures), provides clear definitions, and exempts certain activities from consideration as “lobbying.”

The IRS says it’s legal for nonprofits to lobby:

There is an IRS form that nonprofits can file that gives them the opportunity to safely engage in lobbying activities as long as the money spent on lobbying (both grassroots and direct) falls under an established threshold. Read more about this process, referred to as filing the 501(h) election.

Read how easy it is to engage in advocacy.

Read why it's necessary for charitable nonprofits to engage in lobbying activities.

Read about how to safeguard your nonprofit's advocacy activities by filing the 501(h) election.