Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Danger Of Online Lobbying

The campaign season is starting to heat up as we move closer to the 2012 Presidential elections, and soon the real fun will begin: Lobbying for one candidate over another.  But nonprofits need to be careful about how they participate in this kind of advocacy.

In the most recent edition of The NonProfit Times, we went over how the IRS is increasingly scrutinizing nonprofit organization's participation in political advocacy.  If an organization is perceived to have overstepped its boundaries, they could be in danger of getting heavily fined.

This campaign season, it will be common for nonprofits to want to post voter guides on their websites to let their supporters make educated decisions on which candidate to support.  In order to help avoid some of the pitfalls of online lobbying, Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum and Lisa M. Hix of Venable LLP offered the following advice:
  • Simply linking to candidate-related material alone is not enough to be considered political campaign intervention.
  • If you're unsure about what constitutes intervention, consider the following: Are all candidates equally represented?  Does the website your linking to favor one candidate over another?  Is the link being offered with an exempt purpose (i.e. candidate education)?
  • When preparing to post a link, organizations should be very careful.  Any website that contains specific views on legislation, as well as links to a voting legislator's e-mail, will be treated as a "call to action," even if that wasn't the intention.
  • Check sites for links added inadvertently or without authorization.

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