• 501(c)(3)

    A section of the Internal Revenue code that provides exemption from federal income tax to organizations required to devote their resources to educational, religious, scientific, or other charitable activities.  Contributions to a 501(c)(3) are deductible from a donor’s federal income tax.  A 501(c)(3) organization is strictly forbidden from engaging in any political activity on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office.  501(c)(3) organizations are divided into two categories:  public charities and private foundations.  Public charities may engage in a limited amount of lobbying, whereas private foundations are taxed on any money spent for lobbying.  Examples:  public charities include Alliance for Justice and Sierra Club Foundation; private foundations include The Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

  • 501(c)(4)

    A section of the Internal Revenue Code that provides exemption from federal income tax to social welfare organizations–organizations that engage in educational, lobbying, and some limited political activities.  Contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are not tax deductible.  Examples:  Sierra Club and Human Rights Campaign.

  • 501(c)(5)

    A section of the Internal Revenue Code that provides exemption from federal income tax to labor, agricultural or horticultural organizations.  The general purpose of 501(c)(5) groups is to improve work-related conditions, products and efficiency, and they may engage in unlimited lobbying and some partisan political activity in furtherance of their purposes. Contributions to 501(c)(5) organization are not tax deductible.  Examples:  SEIU and Communications Workers of America.

  • 501(c)(6)

    A section of the Internal Revenue Code that provides exemption from federal income tax to business leagues, chambers of commerce, boards of trade or real estate boards.  The general purpose of 501(c)(6) organizations is to improve business conditions of one or more lines of business as distinguished from performing particular services for individual persons.  501(c)(6) organizations may engage in unlimited lobbying and some partisan political activity in furtherance of their purposes.  Contributions to a 501(c)(6) organization are not tax deductible.  Examples:  American Medical Association and the Chamber of Commerce.

  • 501(h) Expenditure Test

    An alternative method by which public charities can measure their lobbying activity is the 501(h) expenditure test.  While the name reflects a section of the tax code, organizations do not change their 501(c)(3) status by choosing this method to measure their lobbying.  This test provides clearer guidance, as it defines lobbying, provides an exact dollar-based lobbying limit, and measures lobbying based upon an organization’s expenditures.  Therefore, if an activity creates no cost for the organization then it does not count against its lobbying limit.  An organization must affirmatively elect—through a one-time filing of Form 5768—to be covered by this test.

  • 527

    A section of the Internal Revenue Code that addresses the tax treatment of all political organizations—those entities that exist to influence the outcome of elections.  elections.  A political organization is generally exempt from taxation to the extent that it spends its funds on political activities and related expenses.  Political activities include influencing or attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any individual to any federal, state, or local public office or office in a political organization.   Political organization income is exempt from tax unless it is 1) investment income, 2) trade or business income, or 3) income that is spent or set aside to fund activities that do not qualify as political activities.  Political organizations may be divided into several categories:  federal political committees (eg, Sierra Club PAC and Emily’s List); state PACs (eg, Oregon Chapter Sierra Club PAC), and other “527s” (eg, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth).  Contributions to 527 organizations are not tax deductible.  Often referred to as political action committees or PACs.

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  • Administrative Advocacy

    Efforts to influence actions of the Executive Branch, such as by commenting on rulemakings and regulations, Executive Orders, and other policies.

  • Advocacy

    While all lobbying is advocacy, not all advocacy is lobbying.  Advocacy is any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.  It includes public education, regulatory work, litigation, and work before administrative bodies, lobbying, voter registration, voter education, and more.

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  • Ballot measure

    Ballot measures allow voters to propose and enact laws. They include ballot initiatives, constitutional amendments, bond measures, and referenda.

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  • Call to Action

    A specific means of encouraging a communication’s recipient to take lobbying action. A call to action must comprise at least one of the following actions: 1) tell the recipient to contact a legislator; 2) provide information on how the recipient can contact his/her legislator, such as providing the phone number or address; 3) provide a mechanism for enabling the recipient to contact his legislator, such as a postcard, petition, or email form; or 4) identify a legislator who will vote on the legislation as being opposed to or undecided about the organization’s view on the legislation, a member of a legislative committee who will vote on the legislation, or the recipient’s legislator.

  • Candidate Debate

    A public debate where candidates directly engage each other at the same time on particular topics.

  • Candidate Forum

    A public meeting or assembly allowing for open discussion of issues by candidates where candidates appear sequentially.

  • Community Organizing

    Educating and mobilizing individuals to influence public policy.

  • Connected PAC

    See Separate Segregated Fund.

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  • Direct Lobbying

    Occurs when an organization communicates with a legislator or legislative staff member (or any other government employee who may participate in the formulation of the legislation, but only if the principal purpose of the communication is to influence legislation) about a specific piece of legislation and reflects a view on that legislation. Direct Lobbying also encompasses any communication with the general public expressing a view about a ballot initiative, referendum, bond measure, or similar procedure.

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  • Electing Public Charity

    A public charity that has “elected” to be governed by lobbying expenditure limits under section 501(h) of the IRC.

  • Electioneering Communication

    A broadcast, cable, satellite communication (but not the internet), whether or not paid for by its sponsor, that includes the name or likeness of a federal candidate, airs within 30 days of a primary, caucus, or convention, or within 60 days of a general election; and can be received by at least 50,000 persons in the referenced candidates electorate.

  • Electoral-Related Activity

    Election-related activities includes “partisan election-related activity” (activity that supports or opposes candidates for public office) and “nonpartisan election-related activity” (activities that do not attempt to influence an election by supporting or opposing a candidate).  An organization’s tax-exempt and corporate status will determine what activities are permissible.

  • Executive Order

    An order issued by the president, governor, or mayor that is not legislation but has the force and effect of law.

  • Exempt Purpose Expenditures

    “Exempt purpose expenditures” include everything a charity spends to accomplish its exempt purpose, but excludes certain expenditures for fundraising, capital expenses, unrelated business activities, and other purposes not connected to carrying out the organization’s charitable purposes. For many organizations, all of the organization’s expenditures qualify as exempt purpose expenditures.

    Contact us for more information on what expenditures count as exempt purpose expenditures.

  • Express Advocacy

    A communication that urges the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or the communication as a whole, considering its proximity to an election, could only be interpreted by a reasonable person as urging the election or defeat of a candidate, “because 1) the electoral portion of the communication is unmistakable, unambiguous and suggestive of only one meaning; and 2) reasonable minds could not differ as to whether it encourages actions to elect or defeat one or more clearly identified candidates.”

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  • Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)

    The federal statute that regulates the financing of and participation in federal elections.

  • Federal Election Commission (FEC)

    The regulatory agency that administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).

  • Federal PAC

    A political organization registered with the Federal Election Commission that may make contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of federal elections in compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act (“FECA”).  A federal PAC may also participate in state and local elections where permitted by state law.  A Federal PAC may be organized either as separate segregated fund or as a nonconnected PAC.

  • Form 990

    The information return required to be filed annually with the IRS by most tax-exempt organizations.  Public charities report lobbying on Schedule C of Form 990.

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  • General Support Grant

    A grant that allows the grantee to determine how to spend the proceeds.  It is not earmarked for a particular purpose and specifically is not earmarked to be used in an attempt to influence legislation.

  • Grant Agreement

    A legally binding contract between the foundation and its grantee specifying criteria for how and when grant funds can be spent and reporting requirements, if any.

  • Grassroots Lobbying

    A communication with the general public that reflects a view on specific legislation and includes a call to action that encourages people to contact their legislative representatives or staff in order influence that legislation.

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  • Independent Expenditure

    A communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate and is not paid for or otherwise coordinated with any candidate, campaign, or political party. The FEC definition refers to a broad range of public communications, including: broadcast, cable or satellite communications, outdoor advertising (such as billboards), magazine and newspaper ads, mass mailings, or telephone banks, as well as electronic communications such as emails and websites.

  • Insubstantial Part Test

    One of two possible ways to measure the lobbying activities by 501(c)(3) public charity organizations. This test requires that lobbying be limited to an insubstantial part of an organization’s overall activity.  Under this test, there are no clear definitions regarding what constitutes lobbying, what an “insubstantial part” is, or how to measure activities.  An organization is subject to this test unless and until it elects otherwise.

  • Internal Revenue Code (IRC)

    The federal law governing the taxation of individuals and organizations and the activities of tax–exempt organizations.

  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

    The federal agency charged with enforcing federal law governing the taxation of individuals and organizations and the activities of tax–exempt organizations.

  • Issue Advocacy

    An organization communicating positions on issues of social, economic or philosophical concern that are related to the organization’s charitable or exempt purposes. Advocacy might include education or attempting to influence the public on subjects such as health care, gun safety, worker rights or environmental protection. The term is commonly used to mean all policy-related activities that are not intended to intervene in an election for or against a candidate for public office.

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  • Legislation

    Action by a legislative body, including the “introduction, amendment, enactment, defeat or repeal of Acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items.”  It includes actions by Congress, a state legislature, a similar local legislative body, or any actions by the general public in a referendum question, initiative petition, or proposed constitutional amendment.  In addition, it includes Senate confirmation of executive and judicial branch nominees and proposed treaties requiring Senate approval (from the time that the President’s representative begins to negotiate its position with respect to the parties to that proposed treaty).

  • Legislative Advocacy

    Efforts to change policy through the legislative branch of government.  This may include lobbying or other communications with the legislative branch that do not meet the definition of lobbying.

  • Legislative Scorecard

    Compilations of the votes cast by sitting legislators on bills.  These are sometimes referred to as voting records.

  • Litigation

    A lawsuit, judicial contest, or any dispute brought to court to enforce a particular right.

  • Lobbying

    In general, lobbying is an attempt to influence specific legislation by communicating views to legislators or asking people to contact their legislators. See also direct lobbying and grassroots lobbying.

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  • Member

    A person affiliated with an organization in ways that confer certain legal privileges on communication between the organization and the person.  Under the IRC, a member of an electing 501(c)(3) public charity is a person who contributes more than a nominal amount of time or money to the organization.  Under the FECA, a member is a person who either pays regular dues to the organization or who has a significant organizational attachment to the organization, such as the right to participate in the governance of the organization (for example, by electing one or more members of the organization’s board) and who annually affirms membership in the organization.

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  • Nonconnected PAC

    A political organization generally established by a group of individuals independent of any sponsoring corporation or union.

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  • Overall Lobbying Limit

    The total amount the organization can spend on both direct and grassroots lobbying for the year. The overall lobbying limit starts as high as 20% of those expenditures for small charities and diminishes to a smaller percentage of the expenditures for larger organizations, with a maximum cap of $1,000,000 on an organization’s annual lobbying expenditures.

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  • Political Organization

    See 527.

  • Private Foundation

    A 501(c)(3) organization supported by one or a few individuals or sources. Private foundations generally award grants to permit others, primarily public charities, to carry out charitable activities.  Private foundations are subject to more restrictions than are public charities, including a tax on all lobbying expenditures.

  • Private Letter Ruling

    Non-precedential  guidance issued by the IRS in response to taxpayer inquiries about the application of the IRC to their current or intended conduct.

  • Public Charity

    A 501(c)(3) organization which actively fundraises and receives contributions from many sources, including the general public, governmental agencies, corporations, private foundations or other public charities.  Public charities generally receive income from the conduct of activities in furtherance of the organization’s exempt purposes, or actively function in a supporting relationship to one or more existing public charities.

  • Public Foundation

    Public charities that make grants to support the charitable activities of other organizations, such as community foundations and women’s funds.

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  • Recall vote

    A special election on the question of whether an elected official should be removed from office.

  • Regulation

    A rule or order that has the force of law that originates from the executive branch (usually from an agency), and deals with the specifics of a program.

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  • Separate Segregated Fund (SSF)

    A political organization established and administered by a corporation or union, including an incorporated 501(c)(4) organization, for the purpose of conducting political activities.  Often referred to as a Connected PAC.

  • Specific Legislation

    Legislation that has been introduced in a legislative body and a specific legislative proposal an organization supports or opposes.

  • Specific Project Grant

    A grant designated for use for a specific project.  The grantee must spend the funds for the designated project; it does not have the discretion to spend the funds on another project, even one if the same broad program area, or for general purposes.  Under certain rules, a private foundation may make a specific project grant to a public charity for a project that includes lobbying.

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  • Voter Guide

    Printed or electronic material that compares the candidates in a race, usually based on their positions on issues.  The information in voter guides is often gathered through a questionnaire sent to the candidates in a race, as well as from public sources such as campaign websites and legislative records.

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