Berkeley Partners for Parks is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Our Partner Groups are legally part of the same nonprofit, and thus the same restrictions apply to both.
Although there are situations in which you might want a lawyer to interpret the rules on political activity and lobbying, basically these rules are pretty simple:
1. No influence on who gets elected: Neither BPFP nor its Partner Groups may intervene or participate in “any political campaign, on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” [I.R.C. 501(c)(3). That is, neither BPFP, nor its Partner Groups, nor volunteers or paid staff speaking for those Partner Groups, can express any opinion, make any contribution, publish or distributes statements for or against, or in any way help or oppose, any political party or any candidate for any elective public office. We may not let them use our officies, equipment, mailing lists, or other facilities. This includes partisan and nonpartisan elections, local or national. We also may not recruit candiates or support them before they declare candidacy.
2. Influencing policies and laws is OK as long as it’s a small part of what BPFP does: BPFP and its Partner Groups may lobby on legislation or issues. We are free to take positions on laws or policies, communicate with public officials to try to influence their actions, communicate with candidates to try to get them to take stands, and communicate with the public to try to get them to influence officials or candidates. We can even analyze how all candidates for a particular office stand on issues or take part in nonpartisan voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote activities.
There are restrictions on lobbying. No money used can come from a federal grant or contract. And lobbying cannot take up a “substantial” part of the organization’s time or money. What “substantial” means depends on circumstances, but basically, we should begin to be concerned if lobbying takes up more than 5% of BPFP’s time or money. This seems unlikely, but you should let BPFP know if you think that lobbying may take up more than 5% of your group’s effort. Please contact one of these people: Charlie Bowen (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Susan Schwartz (email@example.com).
You also must keep track of lobbying expenses; BPFP has to report these on its tax return. (If BPFP or affiliates did become more engaged in lobbying, we could make an election and file a form letting us spend up to 20% of our time or money on lobbying, with up to a quarter of that spent on grassroots lobbying, or influencing the general public.)
3. Broad positions are not lobbying: It is not lobbying to discuss and take positions on broad social, environmental, or economic problems, or to educate the public about these and what your and other groups are doing about them, for example through newsletters. This is true even if government deals with these problems in the end. Thus, it is not “lobbying” that BPFP generally supports parks and open space, Berkeley Path Wanderers generally supports path creation and restoration, and Friends of Five Creeks generally opposes pollution. Lobbying attempts to influence specific government actions.
4, Some other things that are not lobbying: If a government agency asks in writing for your technical expertise or advice, providing such advice is not lobbying. If you have members, it is not lobbying to communicate with them about proposed laws, regulations, etc. – unless you urge them to lobby. But BPFP members probably do not have to be concerned about these and even finer points.
DISCLAIMER: This document aims at providing informal, rough guidelines to members of Berkeley Partners for Parks only. Please do not rely on it for anything else.