Nonprofit organizations that engage in public policy advocacy in California may have reporting obligations under California’s Political Reform Act (PRA) and its implementing regulations. Take a look at our resources below to learn more about the PRA and its impact on nonprofit advocacy in California, particularly with respect to ballot measure activity and lobbying of state officials.
Influencing Legislation in California
To effectively influence legislation, it helps to find out the procedures to follow, the relevant people to talk to, and the legislative calendar.
- This timeline from the state Assembly provides a roadmap for how to turn your idea into a California law: Lifecycle of California Legislation.
- The California Budget & Policy Center offers guides on the state and county budget process in California.
- The Legislative Counsel of California has a website that allows you to search for state legislation. They also produce A Guide for Accessing California Legislative Information on the Internet.
- To find out the Senate and Assembly’s calendars and schedules, see the California State Legislature’s website. You can also find out who sits on various committees and learn about upcoming hearings.
State-level Lobbying Disclosure Resources
Nonprofits that influence state policy in California must be aware of at least two sets of laws: the federal tax laws and regulations that limit lobbying by all 501(c)(3) public charities, and the California laws that require disclosure of certain lobbying activities. Organizations lobbying the California Legislature as well as state-level administrative agencies, boards and commissions may be regulated by the lobbying provisions of the Political Reform Act (referred to here informally as the “California lobbying disclosure rules”).
California lobbying disclosure rules only apply to groups and individuals that meet a relatively high threshold of lobbying activity, and therefore many groups that carry out advocacy work in California will not need to take action to comply with the laws.
- AFJ’s publication, Shaping the Future: A Compliance Guide for Nonprofits Influencing Public Policy in California, serves as a definitive guide for 501(c)(3) nonprofits and foundations that must comply with both federal tax law and California’s lobbying rules.
- AFJ also has introductory factsheets about California lobbying disclosure: Understanding California Lobbying Disclosure Rules and California Lobbying Disclosure Thresholds.
- AFJ’s State Law Resources summarize and explain the state laws that govern lobbying disclosure in the Introduction to California Lobbying Disclosure.
- The Fair Political Practices Commission provides Lobbying Forms and a Lobbying Disclosure Manual to help those with registration or reporting obligations.
- The California Secretary of State has links explaining the lobbying forms and their filing instructions; answers Frequently Asked Questions about lobbying reports; and provides access to Cal-Access, the California Online Campaign & Lobbying Filing System.
- The California Secretary of State also allows you to access information about entities that lobby in California, so you can see who is registered to lobby, also through Cal-Access.
City, County, and Special District Lobbying Disclosure Resources
In addition to federal tax law and California state law regarding lobbying activities, certain cities, counties and special districts (including a select number of school districts, airport authorities and transportation authorities) have separate laws regulating lobbying activities. The vast majority of jurisdictions in California do not regulate the interaction between nonprofits and government officials, but you should familiarize yourself with the laws in your jurisdiction.
- AFJ has a fact sheet that lists the local lobbying ordinances that we are aware of: California City, County and Special District Local Lobby Ordinances.
- AFJ has a fact sheet on the Los Angeles Municipal Lobbying Ordinance for organizations that advocate in the City of Los Angeles.
- AFJ has a fact sheet on the Los Angeles County Lobbyist Ordinance for organizations that advocate in the County of Los Angeles.
- AFJ has a fact sheet on San Francisco’s Proposition C for organizations that advocate in the City and County of San Francisco.
Ballot Measure Disclosure Resources
Nonprofit organizations active in state or local California ballot measure campaigns must comply both with federal tax law and California ballot measure disclosure rules in the Political Reform Act . Federal tax law permits 501(c)(3) public charities to engage in a limited amount of ballot measure advocacy annually, since the IRS treats ballot measure advocacy as lobbying. Under California’s PRA, however, organizations engaging in certain activities to pass or oppose a ballot measure may need to disclose their expenditures in support of or opposition to the ballot measure, as well as the names of donors whose contributions were used to support the organization’s ballot measure activities. Not all activities in support or opposition to ballot measures will need to be disclosed under state law, so it’s important for nonprofits active in California to learn about the thresholds that trigger reporting, and to know what must be reported.
- Many common nonprofit activities to support or oppose ballot measures may not need to be reported in California: Ballot Measures Activities Exempt from California Disclosure Laws.
- AFJ’s fact sheet Supporting or Opposing Ballot Measures in California: What You Need to Disclose? discusses what type of reporting may be required for nonprofits supporting or opposing ballot measures in California.
- AFJ’s fact sheet Initiating Policy Change: Circulating Ballot Initiatives in California discusses the legal considerations for nonprofits just starting out with their ballot measure campaign.
- The Fair Political Practices Commission provides a User’s Manual for Ballot Measure Committees, Major Donor Reporting, and Independent Expenditure Reporting.
- AFJ’s State Law Resources give an overview of the state’s election and ballot measure laws in the California Campaign Finance and Ballot Measure Guide.