Over the years, the exemption of nonprofits, specifically 501(c)3 nonprofits, has come into question when it comes to registering and reporting lobbying activities. In addition to the most recent revisions coming out of the City of Long Beach Ethics Commission, this has also been targeted in San Jose in 2015, and Los Angeles this past February. TNP opposes any lobbying ordinances that require 501(c)3 nonprofits to disclose further information beyond what is already required by the state and federal government. We also strongly oppose the requirement that nonprofit staff and volunteers advocating to advance their mission serving the public good should have to register activities lobbyist.
In early 2023, the newly formed City of Long Beach Ethics Commission started working on revisions to the Lobbying Ordinance that would remove the exemption for nonprofit organizations to have to register as lobbyists. In addition, these changes would increase requirements of reporting to include advocacy activities. This attempt at transparency by enforcing registration of advocacy activities is an undue burden and ineffective use of time for nonprofits already stretched thin.
We joined in partnership with many other local nonprofits to outline why nonprofits should remain exempt, with two main points:
- Nonprofits already operate under stringent lobbying regulations and activities are reported on their IRS Form 990, which is publicly available on websites such as Guidestar.org, or by request.
- Nonprofits exist for the public good. Any lobbying or advocacy (which in the case of the Ethics Commission, both activities are being targeted) are for the benefit of the public, those they serve- NOT for private for-profit businesses.
We urge City leaders to stop creating barriers to collaboration. Let nonprofits focus on supporting the community.
While we hoped, with community feedback, that the Ethics Commission would not continue to propose this revision, they are now seeking public input. Please read the letter below sent to the Ethics Commission by several local nonprofits opposing these changes and click here to read the follow up letter sent in May 2023 responding to additional changes. If you have time, please provide your feedback to the Ethics Commission via the online survey by October 19th. The survey is now available in English, Spanish, Khmer and Tagalog., or attend the in-person feedback session on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, at 5:30 p.m. in the Civic Chamber at City Hall (411 W. Ocean Blvd.).
For more information on nonprofit advocacy and lobbying requirements in California, many resources can be found at: https://bolderadvocacy.org/resource-library/
Read the letter below for additional information our position regarding nonprofit lobbying:
March 6, 2023
City of Long Beach
Long Beach, CA
Sent Via Electronic Mail
RE: Comments Re: Proposal to Include Non-profit Organizations in Long Beach’s Lobbying Ordinance, LBMC CH. 2.08
Please accept these comments regarding the proposal to include non-profit organizations in Long Beach’s Lobbying Ordinance, LBMC CH. 2.08. This letter is submitted by the undersigned non-profit organizations and allies who are extremely concerned about the possibility of eliminating the non-profit exemption from the City’s Lobbying Ordinance and expanding the scope of the Ordinance to include “advocacy.” While we support greater transparency in government, non-profit organizations should continue to be exempted from the City’s Lobbying Ordinance for the following reasons.
As 501(c)(3) organizations, we already report our lobbying work to the federal government and we have limits on lobbying imposed by the federal government.
As you likely are aware, 501(c)(3) organizations are unique in that they already have strict lobbying restrictions placed upon them by the federal government. For example, 501(c)(3)’s cannot spend more than approximately 20% of their expenditures on lobbying activities. These organizations are very careful not to exceed the various limitations, as the penalty includes not only fines, but also losing tax exempt status. As it currently stands, many 501(c)(3)’s are already so concerned about violating tax laws, that they severely limit, or even prohibit, their own lobbying activity. This is a disservice to the process of developing public policy and collaborating with trusted messengers who can achieve shared goals. These organizations are often the only voice for marginalized and low-income communities. Making such organizations jump over yet another hurdle, to register and report as local lobbyists, is likely to have a very chilling effect on their participation in public debate and collaboration.
While we understand the Commission’s desire to be fair, treating all organizations the same, irrespective of their legal structure, is not equal or fair in this circumstance. Non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations are already more transparent than other legal entities. Annual reports, such as the IRS 990 form, include information about lobbying and are publicly available records.
The larger issue at play in this debate should be who influences public policy via access to public officials. It is systematically difficult for low income and marginalized communities to have their voices heard, and eliminating the non-profit exemption will further tie the hands of the organizations that help make that possible. Therefore, we urge you to maintain the existing non-profit exemption.
The City of Long Beach’s reporting requirements (both the existing requirements and the proposed amendments) are different from the federal government’s reporting requirements. Non-profits do not have capacity to juggle multiple and conflicting reporting requirements.
Non-profit organizations are understaffed, overburdened, and simply do not have the capacity to comply with multiple and conflicting lobbying requirements. The impact of the proposed amendments would be that non-profits withdraw from local lobbying, advocacy, and collaborative efforts because they are worried about losing their tax-exempt status. The City would therefore no longer benefit from our voices in the public arena, in which we help to lift up the voices of disenfranchised and marginalized residents.
The proposed amendments to add advocacy and preparation time into the City’s Lobbying Ordinance, for example, are in direct conflict with our federal reporting requirements. Including preparation time in the City’s ordinance also seems punitive for non-profits, as we do not have the resources and systems in place that paid lobbyists have and preparation takes significant time for us. Moreover, preparation work with community members, many of whom are limited English speakers, takes a significant amount of time as well.
As non-profits, we do not have any financial incentive or gain when we lobby, as we are lobbying alongside and on behalf of marginalized communities.
Non-profits are distinct from special interest paid lobbyists because our mission is to serve communities in need, not to turn a profit. For example, our work includes advocacy and lobbying relating to improving the City’s Language Access Policy, so that Limited English Proficient (LEP) residents have greater access to the City’s meetings, vital documents, and services. Our work includes advocacy and lobbying relating to housing policies, to help ensure that low-income renters live in habitable housing and that they do not become displaced and unhoused. And, our work includes budget advocacy to ensure that City funds are allocated in an equitable manner, to reflect the needs of Long Beach residents left out of previous budget decisions. Unlike paid lobbyists, non-profits do not engage in lobbying to make money, further corporate interests, or further their own individual profiles, but to serve their missions of helping people regardless of the immediate outcome. Creating more barriers and intimidation for organized groups of low-income and marginalized communities to be part of the democratic process is a direct effort to keep the voices of people who are historically left out and often overlooked out of decision making.
The proposal to remove the non-profit exemption from the ordinance will have a chilling impact on 501(c)(3) participation in local government because we do not have the staff, capacity, or time to juggle another reporting requirement. While the COVID-19 state of emergencies have expired within government, the needs within low-income and marginalized communities have not. On the heels of this devastating global pandemic, which hit our staff, community members, and organizations in a disproportionate manner, the City should not saddle us with another bureaucratic and confusing reporting requirement that will stifle our participation in government. We participate in lobbying to help underserved and under-represented communities have a voice in government. We do not participate for personal gain or to turn a profit, therefore we should not be treated the same as the paid lobbyists hired by special interest.
Long Beach should continue to exempt non-profits from its Lobbying Ordinance, just as the following other cities in California currently do: San Jose; San Francisco; Carson; Clovis; Desert Hot Springs; Fresno; Gardena; Lancaster; Manhattan Beach; Santa Clara City; Santa Clara County; San Joaquin County; Santa Rosa City; and Los Angeles, which has a limited exception for certain 501(c)(3)s.
Thank you for your consideration of our comments.
AOC7 Neighborhood Association
California Nurses Association
Filipino Migrant Center
Khmer Girls in Action
Long Beach Area Peace Network
Long Beach Forward
Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition
Long Beach Residents Empowered
North Pine Neighborhood Association
Teachers Association of Long Beach
The Nonprofit Partnership
Walk Long Beach