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501(c)(3) Organizations
And Political Activities

Welcome to the glossary section about lobbying.

501(h) election:

Procedure allowing eligible 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations to participate in lobbying activity in accordance with the limitations provided through the expenditure test.



Limited to the introduction, amendment, enactment, defeat, or repeal of acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items.


Advocacy is any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. It includes public education, regulatory work, litigation, and work before administrative bodies, lobbying, voter registration, voter education, and more.


Call to Action:

Specific means of encouraging the communication’s recipient to take lobbying action.



A letter, email, fax, conversation in person or over telephone, or other mechanism that conveys a message.


“Exempt Purpose Expenditures”:

With respect to any organization for any taxable year, the total of the amounts paid or incurred by such organization to accomplish its exempt purposes (including charity’s lobbying expenditures).


“Expresses a View About Specific Legislation”:

A bill or resolution that has been introduced in a legislative body or a specific proposal to solve a problem.

General Circulation Magazines & Newspapers:

Does not include newspapers or magazines published by an organization for which the expenditure test election under 501(h) is in effect, except where both: the totally circulation of the newspaper or magazine is greater than 100K; and fewer than one-half of the recipients are members of the organization.

Highly Publicized:

Frequent coverage on television and radio, and in general circulation magazines/newspapers, during the two weeks preceding the vote by the legislative body or committee. For State and local legislation, means frequent coverage in the mass media that serve the State or local jurisdiction in question. Only “highly publicized” if legislation terms, purpose, or effect are known to a significant segment of the general public in the area in which the paid mass media advertisement appears.

Influencing Legislation:

Any attempt to influence any legislation through the general public or any segment thereof, or through communication with any legislator, or legislative/government employee who may participate in the formulation of the legislation.



Includes action with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items by the Congress, any State legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, or by the public in a referendum, initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure.



A member of a legislative body or his/her staff. Executive branch officials who participate in formulation of legislation are considered legislators.



The attempt to influence the passage, defeat, introduction or amendment of legislation, including bills introduced by a federal, State or local legislative body, bond issues, referenda, constitutional amendments, and senate confirmation votes on executive branch nominees.


Lobby Expenditures:

Any amount paid or incurred by the organization in attempting to influence legislation.


Mass Media:

Television, radio, billboards and general circulation newspapers and magazines.


In the context of 501(h) and lobbying expenditures, a member is someone who has given more than a small amount of time or money to the organization.

Paid Advertisement:

Where an electing public charity is itself a mass media publisher or broadcaster, all portions of that organization’s mass media publications or broadcasts are treated as paid advertisements in the mass media, except those specific portions that are advertisements paid for by another person.


Anyone but a legislator or member of an organization.


Record Keeping:

The process of recording and maintaining the history of an organization’s activities, as financial dealings, by entering data in ledgers or journals, putting documents in files, etc.

Direct Lobbying:

Communication referring to specific legislation and expressing a stance on it, made to a legislator, employee of legislative body, or any other government employee who may participate in the formulation of legislation.


Lobbying Nontaxable Amount:

Maximum amount of total lobbying expenditures a charity with a 501(h) election in place can make without incurring a penalty.


Grassroots Lobbying:

Communication referring to specific legislation, expressing a stance on it, and including a call to action, made to the public.


Grassroots Nontaxable Amount:

Maximum amount of grassroots lobbying expenditures a charity can make without incurring a penalty.


Substantial Part Test:

Requirements that no substantial part of a charitable organization’s activities may be for carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation. 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.”