Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2019

Ever Wonder How Much Your Charity Can Spend on Lobbying?

By Melissa Mikesell · April 17, 2013

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A certain amount of power comes from knowing what your annual lobbying limit is. You may not be the person responsible for completing your public charity’s annual Form 990 —where 501(c)(3) organizations report their lobbying. Yet it can still be useful to know how much your charity is legally allowed to spend on lobbying each year.

To ensure that all 501(h) electing public charities feel empowered by their annual lobbying limit, we are excited to offer this free Lobbying Limit Calculator.

To use the calculator:

  1. Go to
  2. Determine the amount of your organization’s “exempt-purpose expenditures”—if you’re thinking, “Gah, what is that?!” Don’t worry, we’ve got the definition right here.
  3. Plug that amount into Column B and hit the TAB button.
  4. The calculator will then automatically calculate your charity’s overall lobbying limit, as well as its grassroots lobbying limit.

If you knew how much you could spend on lobbying, do you think you might spend more?

The answer to that question might be yes! Because of the narrow definitions of lobbying under Section 501(h), many (if not most) of the organizations we work with never come close to hitting their annual lobbying limits. If your charity has made the 501(h) election and has carefully tracked its lobbying, it will know just how close it is to its annual lobbying limits throughout the fiscal year.

This knowledge may give your organization the comfort it needs to take on an unexpected legislative opportunity late in the year!

One easy step to ensure you use up every lobbying dollar available

If an electing charity knows it hasn’t exceeded its lobbying limit as the end of the fiscal year approaches, the charity can make a grant to another organization—perhaps a sister 501(c)(4) organization—to use for lobbying on behalf of the two organizations’ commonly held goals.

Such a grant would count against the granting charity’s lobbying limits, but a grant like this effectively lets charities spend “use it or lose it” lobbying dollars before they “expire.” We describe this and more in our recordkeeping publication Keeping Track.

Contact us for more information on making grants for lobbying, including to non-charities like 501(c)(4)s.

 This article was originally post at Bolder Advocacy, which helps nonprofits use advocacy to achieve their missions.

Melissa Mikesell serves as West Coast Director and Senior Counsel with the Alliance for Justice’s West Coast office. Melissa has particular expertise in advising on California state and local lobbying laws. Prior to joining AFJ, Melissa worked as an attorney in the private sector where she advised more than 200 non-profit organizations, Political Action Committees, Ballot Measure Committees and candidates for federal, state, and local office on compliance with California and federal law governing advocacy and election activities. Melissa holds a J.D. from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law and a B.A. from California State University, Chico.

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