Primer on Lobbying and Lobbying Disclosure
Lobbying activities of universities and other charitable organizations are regulated by multiple, overlapping rules of the federal government. These rules set limits on the amounts that Yale may spend on lobbying. All lobbying expenses are unallowable as charges to federal or state grants and contracts. Federal rules also explicitly prohibit the participation of the University, or the use of University resources, in partisan political activities.
What is lobbying?
The Internal Revenue Service, which enforces compliance with rules for charitable organizations, defines “lobbying” as an attempt to influence any legislation through communication with:
- Any member or employee of a legislative body,
- Any government official or employee (other than a member or employee of a legislative body) who may participate in the formulation of the legislation, but only if the principal purpose of the communication is to influence legislation, or
- The general public or any segment of the general public (this is grassroots lobbying).
- To be considered “lobbying,” the communication must also:
- Refer to specific legislation,
- Reflect a view on such legislation, and
- In the case of communications to the general public, it must also encourage recipients to take action about specific legislation.1
In general, the term “legislation” includes a bill proposed or expected to be proposed by the Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar legislative body, or by the public in a referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by administrative agencies, such as the issuance of regulations. Nor does it cover actions of school boards, housing authorities, zoning boards, or similar bodies. Legislation may have already been introduced in a legislative body or it may be a specific legislative proposal that proponents hope will be introduced.
Lobbying does not include non-partisan analysis, study, or research and the communication of research findings to the general public, officials, or governmental bodies. Non-partisan analysis, study, or research may advocate a particular position or viewpoint as long as there is a sufficiently full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts to enable the public or an individual to form an independent opinion or conclusion. However, anyone using the results of non-partisan analysis to influence specific legislation is engaged in lobbying.
A communication that responds to a governmental body’s or committee’s written request for technical advice or assistance is not a lobbying communication.
A communication is not a lobbying communication if it is an appearance before or contact with any legislative body with respect to a possible action that might affect the organization’s existence, its powers and duties, its tax-exempt status, or the deductibility of contributions to the organization, as opposed to affecting merely the scope of the organization’s future activities.
Examples of lobbying contacts.
The Internal Revenue Service has provided several examples to illustrate the boundaries of what qualifies as lobbying. The following are based closely on IRS examples:
An officer of the University writes to a Member of Congress urging him to vote against an amendment that will be offered during the debate on a bill. This constitutes lobbying because it states a view about specific legislation.
A member of the faculty visits a Member of Congress and requests on behalf of Yale that the Congressman or woman sponsor legislation that would be based on a model proposed by a professional society. This constitutes lobbying because it refers to and reflects a view on a specific legislative proposal, although no bill has been introduced.
A group of faculty conducts a research project collecting information on the dangers of the use of pesticides. They produce and publish a report that presents the advantages, disadvantages, and economic costs of current patterns of pesticide use and significantly reduced levels of pesticides. The report concludes that the costs outweigh the benefits and recommends that legislation should be adopted to control the use of pesticides. This does not constitute lobbying because it presents information on both sides of the issue and presents a full and fair exposition of the facts that will enable the reader to form an independent judgment.
An officer of the University contacts a Member of Congress requesting that she write to an Executive Branch agency concerning proposed regulations issued by that agency. This communication does not constitute lobbying because it does not concern specific legislation.
Limitations on Lobbying Expenditures.
In addition to Yale’s policies, lobbying activities of universities and other charitable organizations are regulated by multiple, overlapping rules of the federal government. The rules limit the amount that charitable organizations are permitted to spend on lobbying, and they prohibit the use of federal funds, including grant awards, for lobbying activities. In addition, the federal government prohibits the use of federal funds to lobby any federal official in Congress or the Executive branch on behalf of awarding or extending a federal contract, grant, loan, or cooperative agreement. Yale is required to document and report lobbying efforts conducted by faculty and employees on behalf of the University.
Prohibition of Partisan Activities.
All charitable organizations, including universities are explicitly and strictly prohibited from supporting or opposing political candidates in elections. Faculty or staff employees are not restricted from participating in the political process on their own time, however. Any such activities therefore should be undertaken without the use of Yale’s resources. If faculty or staff have engaged in partisan political activity, none of the related expenses should be charged to Yale accounts. Additional background information is provided in Political Campaign Activity.
(This Primer is available as a pdf below)
1 A communication “encourages a recipient to take action” when it:
- States that the recipient should contact legislators or other government employees who may participate in the formulation of legislation for the purpose of influencing legislation;
- States a legislator’s address, phone number, or similar information;
- Provides a petition, tear-off postcard, or similar material for the recipient to send to a legislator; or
- Specifically identifies one or more legislators who will vote on legislation as opposing Yale’s view on the legislation, being undecided about the legislation, being the recipient’s representative in the legislature, or being a member of the legislative committee that will consider the legislation.