All nonprofit organizations, except private foundations, can lobby on a broad range of policy issues. But rules do apply:
REGISTRATION & DISCLOSURE
Federal, State and Local laws require disclosures, reporting and often registration of lobbyists who spend money or who receive compensation over certain levels. This applies to both nonprofit and for-profit sectors.
RULES FOR TAX EXEMPT ORGANIZATIONS
Churches and other organizations exempt under Section 501(c)(3) are allowed to lobby, but their lobbying is limited. The general rule is that lobbying may not be more than an insubstantial part of their overall activities. But 501(c)(3) organizations other than private foundations, churches and certain other related religious organizations, are allowed to “elect” to come under a more liberal expenditure test, that excludes ‘cost free’ actions or activities, and also provides specific guidance on what will and will not count as lobbying expenditures.
RULES FOR OTHER EXEMPT ORGANIZATIONS
For most other groups that are exempt under Section 501(c) of the code, there is no limit on lobbying activity. Lobbying may often be the sole function of groups organized under Section 501(c)(4) – sometimes referred to as social welfare organizations, or (c)(6) – business leagues, professional associations & chambers of commerce. Dues paid to these organizations may not be deducted from members’ taxes as a ‘business expense’ to the extent funds are used for lobbying.
POLICY ACTIVITY & ELECTIONS
In general, activities that support or oppose the election of any candidate for office must be a secondary, and not the primary activity or function of any tax exempt organization , with the exception of Section 527 political action organizations. Organizations exempt under Section 501(c)(3) including churches may not intervene in any election for public office, at any level. While they are allowed to engage in activities that promote voter registration and participation, and certain voter education activities, these may not be done in ways that suggest which candidates the organization may favor or oppose. Also, nonprofits must also obey applicable federal and state election laws.
2015 Maryland General Assembly>>