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There is no limit on the amount of time, effort, or expense congregations may devote to working on general issues such as civil
rights, civil liberties, economic justice, the environment, or peace. Some of the many acceptable activities
include: advocating positions in the media and to elected officials; educating
and mobilizing congregants and the general public, and working in local
coalitions or partnerships on issues of social justice.
In general, no organization, including a congregation, may qualify for
Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying)."
[Legislation] does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.
A congregation or religious organization will be regarded as attempting to influence
legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or
employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or
opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection
Whether or not a congregation's attempts to influence legislation
constitute a substantial part of its overall activities is determined on the
basis of all the pertinent facts and circumstances in each case. The IRS
considers a variety of factors, including the time devoted (by both compensated
and volunteer workers) and the expenditures devoted by the organization to the
activity, when determining whether the lobbying activity is substantial.
Although the IRS has not defined what is "substantial," courts and the IRS have
ruled in the past that lobbying activities constituting 5% or less of total
activities is acceptable. The IRS has
also noted that where 16 to 20% of total activities have been devoted to
lobbying, those activities have generally been considered "substantial."
Congregations may support or criticize legislators,
lobby them, and work to hold them accountable. However, close to an election,
the IRS may view a sudden entry into the political arena as partisan. A track
record of consistent activity is the best safeguard against these
Congregations may sponsor and distribute to their
members, the general public, or governmental bodies, a "nonpartisan analysis,
study, or research" of legislation (including ballot measures, referenda, state
constitutional amendments, city charter amendments, etc.) without the activity
being considered lobbying or partisan. Such nonpartisan analysis must be independent and objective in order to
not count as lobbying. However, it "may advocate a particular position or viewpoint so long as there is
sufficiently full and fair presentation of the pertinent facts to enable the
public or an individual to form an opinion or conclusion, as opposed to the mere
presentation of unsupported opinion."
If you plan to produce an analysis that will be used for lobbying, meaning
that it will encourage readers to take action on legislation (which
is permissible), be sure to include the money and time spent on it in your
substantial part calculations.
For more information contact socialjustice @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, September 13, 2012.
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