Lobbying vs. Non-Lobbying Checklist

It is always important to understand whether any activities you are planning could fall under the IRS definition of lobbying. If you are a Voices for Healthy Kids Grantee please see your Grantee Guidebook and/or talk with your Policy Engagement Manager for more details about what is and is not allowed under the grant guidelines.

The following questions may help you determine whether your efforts are lobbying under the IRS rules. Plan strategically in advance and consult your lawyer to use your non-lobbying funds as powerfully as possible to advance your advocacy campaign. 

In general, the IRS lobbying rules apply to communications with members of Congress, state and local legislators, and their staff. In some cases, communications with executive branch officials or staff, or with the general public, will be considered lobbying too.

  • Will you be communicating directly with a legislator or staffer—or with executive branch officials or staff involved in formulating legislation? 
  • If so, will your communications reflect a point of view on specific legislation, bill, or policy that is pending in the legislature, such as the following?
    • Bills or ballot measures that have been introduced.
    • Specific legislative proposals not yet introduced.
    • Budget bills.
  • If the answers to both questions are “yes,” your communication is direct lobbying, unless an exception applies.

Think strategically:  If you are not discussing legislation, your communications with public officials or their staff are not lobbying. One example: telling a legislator that cities, towns, and counties should be able to pass their own laws to protect public health is not lobbying if you are not discussing specific legislation. However, it is lobbying to tell a legislator that a proposed bill to preempt communities in your state from passing sugary drink taxes should be changed, because that does reflect a view on a specific bill.

  • Does your communication to the public refer to legislation or to a specific proposal for legislation – and also include a call-to-action, such as the following?
    • Asking the public to contact a legislator.
    • Identifying a person as being the audience’s legislative representative.
    • Providing contact information for a legislator.
    • Providing a vehicle for contacting the legislator (e.g., form, email, petition).
    • Identifying a legislator as being neutral on the bill, or as being opposed to your organization’s position.
    • Identifying a legislator’s position on the legislation or identifying the legislator as sitting on the voting committee.
  • If your public communication refers to legislation or to a specific proposal for legislation, and also includes a call-to-action, it is grassroots lobbying.

Think strategically: If communications to the general public do not include a call-to-action, they are not lobbying—unless the legislation discussed is a ballot measure. For example, you may simply want to educate the public about a pending bill, without encouraging people to contact their legislators. Your public communications may even encourage people to tell their friends and neighbors to support a bill, as long as you do not include one of the forms of a “call-to-action” listed above.

Also, state lobbying rules may differ from these IRS definitions. For grant restrictions, the IRS rules are all that matter: some activities may be lobbying under state rules, and are reportable to the state, but if the IRS rules say they’re not lobbying, you can use non-lobbying grant funds for them. 

This document is not legal advice. Consult legal counsel before undertaking advocacy activity or any communication described in this document.