Recently the Administration for Community Living, Independent Living Administration, distributed its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Centers for Independent Living on Allowable Advocacy Activities for Federal Grantees. As the introductory note indicates, CILs are required to conduct systems advocacy but are not allowed to lobby with federal funds. You can find this publication on our website. There are also some restrictions on lobbying imposed on non-profits by the IRS that lobbying can’t be a “substantial” percentage of your activities, but most CILs don’t spend so much on lobbying that these are an issue. Note that CILs can directly influence and create legislation, they just can’t use federal funding to do so.
What is and isn’t advocacy (and thus allowed with federal funds) is a topic for another day. Today Kimberly Tissot from ABLE-South Carolina and I want to talk to you about lobbying because non-profit organizations ARE allowed to lobby. You are NOT allowed to pay for lobbying with federal funds. That means that you need to keep track.
Paula: Kimberly, what kinds of things do you do to influence decision makers that would be considered lobbying?
Kimberly: There are several examples of what Able-SC does that are lobbying:
- We contract with a Legislative Liaison/Registered Lobbyist
- The lobbyist and I meet together with representatives
- We write legislation and advocate for bills to pass
- We testify in support/opposition of a bill
- We report to the Ethics Commission every six months
- We spread IL and disability rights throughout the SC general assembly
- We make funding requests
Paula: So you need to keep track of time spent lobbying, and sometimes there are other expenses related to lobbying. I can think of a few — travel, food, lodging if you go to either your state capital or Washington D.C. to lobby. You can probably think of others. At the same time, lobbying isn’t usually the only thing you are doing. So how do you track the expenses that are part of lobbying and therefore can’t be paid with your federal funds?
Kimberly: Lobbying activities need to be documented clearly, and paid for with discretionary funds. This means that my timesheet includes a category for lobbying, and any time spent in lobbying is reflected there. Indirect costs are charged based on time, so the indirect costs related to lobbying are captured as well. Then my mileage and travel forms and receipts are categorized, and if any of those expenses related to lobbying, I note that. As a result I can actually show in our financial statements how much money was spent on lobbying and where the money came from. Here is an example of how we communicate rules on lobbying to our staff:
Lobbying Activity Policy: Able SC fully supports the federal restrictions on lobbying using federal funds. Able SC staff are prohibited from lobbying during work hours or in an official capacity unless the Executive Director provides permission. In such rare situations, you will be required to document your lobbying activities in CIL Suites under “Community Activities” and document your lobbying time on your timesheet using the “lobbying” funding source with a brief description of your activities. Below you will find an example of lobbying activities:
- Asking a lawmaker to vote or vote against legislation.
- Getting your consumers/members to contact their lawmakers in support/opposition of a bill. In the last three years, we wrote three bills and all three passed
- Asking for funding for the organization.
- If you are unsure the difference between lobbying and advocacy, please ask for clarification from your immediate supervisor.
Paula: I can see that staff training on this is important. One last point. You are required to report lobbying on your IRS 990 form at the end of each year. Kimberly, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Kimberly: If you are lobbying make sure you check with your state laws regarding lobbying. If you lobby, the lobbyist should be registered, and you may need to register at your state’s ethics commission and report on your lobbying activities.
Guest Kimberly Tissot is the Executive Director of Able South Carolina, a center for independent living based in Columbia SC.