Overview of U.S. Lobbying and Political Campaigning Rules for Grantees

U.S. federal tax law prohibits 501(c)(3) private foundations, such as the Tinker Foundation (the “Foundation”) from conducting lobbying or political campaign activities within the meaning of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”), and the Foundation does not provide funding in support of such lobbying or political campaign activities.

The Foundation may provide support to organizations engaged in other public policy advocacy activities as permitted by law. The Foundation offers the following brief overview of theU.S. rules relating to lobbying and political campaign activities, but note, the rules are complex and technical, and grantees should consult legal counsel to ensure that their activities comply with federal tax laws.


The regulations under Section 501(c)(3) of the Code define lobbying as any attempt to influence legislation. Generally, legislation is action by a legislative body (i.e., Congress, State legislature, local council, or similar governing body) to enact, defeat, amend, or repeal a bill, law, resolution, or similar legislative matter, even if such legislation is in draft form or as yet unwritten. In some cases, the general public is the legislative body, such as in the case of a referendum or ballot initiative.

Legislation generally does not include attempts to influence executive branch or administrative agencies with respect to, for example, regulatory or policy matters or enforcement of existing law.

Generally, an organization will be treated as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts members of a legislative body to propose, support, or oppose legislation (“direct lobbying”) or if it urges the public to do the same (“grassroots lobbying”).

Direct Lobbying

Generally speaking, direct lobbying refers to certain direct communications with government personnel who are involved in the legislative process in an attempt to influence legislation. These personnel may be legislators or employees of legislative bodies or other government personnel who participate in the formulation of the legislation concerned. A communication with these government personnel will generally be lobbying if it both refers to specific legislation and reflects a position on that legislation.

Grassroots Lobbying

Generally speaking, indirect or “grassroots” lobbying refers to a communication with members of the public that seeks to affect their opinions about the legislation and urges them to contact legislators, their staffers, or other government personnel involved in the formulation of legislation in an attempt to influence that legislation. To be considered grassroots lobbying, the communication must: 1) refer to specific legislation, 2) reflect a view on the legislation, and 3) include a “call to action” that encourages the recipient to take action with respect to the legislation.

Exceptions and Special Rules

The Code includes a few special rules and specific exceptions to lobbying. For example, nonpartisan analysis, study, or research, and examinations and discussions of broad social, economic, and similar problems, are generally not lobbying if they meet certain technical requirements in the Code.

For more information about 501(c)(3) lobbying rules, visit Bolder Advocacy or consult legal counsel.


The use of any Tinker Foundation grant monies to participate in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office is PROHIBITED by United States law. This applies to elections in and outside the United States. Certain non-partisan educational activities may be permissible.

For more information, visit Bolder Advocacy or consult legal counsel.

Also, no Tinker Foundation grant monies may be used to make any payments that would be illegal under local law, such as to offer money to a public official to perform an official action or to omit or to delay an official action, or for any other purpose not permitted bylaw. Below we offer examples of activities that may be permissible under these rules and those that are strictly prohibited.

Examples of Types of Public Policy Activities That May Be Permissible Under These Rules, If Conducted in Compliance with Code Requirements

  1. Communications with members of the general public about a social problem, if there is no reference to specific legislation, no position taken on the legislation, and no encouragement of the public to contact legislators or other government personnel concerning the legislation.
  2. Efforts to influence regulations or other actions of an executive, judicial or administrative body.
  3. Public interest lawsuits.
  4. Meetings with or letters to government officials, including legislators, about a problem needing a legislative solution, if there is no reference to specific legislation and no view expressed on specific legislation.
  5. Responding to written requests from a legislative body or committee for technical advice or assistance on specific legislation. Note that a written request from an individual legislator does not meet this standard-
  6. Communicating the results of nonpartisan analysis, study or research on a legislative issue, so long as there is no direct encouragement of members of the general public to contact legislators or other government personnel concerning the legislation.

Examples of Types of Public Policy Activities That Are Prohibited Under These Rules

  1. A letter to or meeting with a legislator or her or his staff encouraging the legislator to vote either for or against specific legislation or to submit a specific legislative proposal to the legislature.
  2. An advertisement or pamphlet encouraging people to contact their legislators and to urge them to vote for or against specific legislation.
  3. Asking individuals to sign a petition urging legislators to vote for or against specific legislation
  4. Publishing articles and producing radio and television broadcasts urging recipients to become involved in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate
  5. Preparing a fact sheet for a legislative committee describing one view of proposed legislation important to an organization’s objectives, when such fact sheet has not been requested in writing by the committee


If you have any questions, or if you would like further information, please contact us at Grants[at]tinker[dot]org.

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