Lobbying, Political Campaign Intervention, and What Your Initiative Can Do
You may have heard that 501(c)(3) organizations are not allowed to be political. That isn't quite correct, but there are limitations on what we, and by extension our sponsored/hosted initiatives, can do.
Specifically, Initiatives of OCF are not allowed to engage in lobbying (e.g., for specific legislation), political campaign intervention (including endorsing candidates). Breaking these rules could endanger our 501(c)(3) status.
Lobbying is attempting to influence specific legislation. According to the IRS, a "substantial part" of our activities cannot be lobbying. Although technically 501(c)(3) organizations may be able to engage in lobbying to a small degree, our program does not allow initiatives to engage in it at all.
"Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies." (source)
Examples of lobbying provided by the IRS include the following:
Contacting, or urging the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation
Advocating the adoption or rejection of legislation
Political Campaign Intervention
According to the IRS, Political Campaign Intervention includes:
Directly or indirectly participating in - or intervening in, of course - any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office
Contributions to political campaign funds
Public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate
These activities are completely prohibited for our Initiatives. (source)
So What Can We Do?
Just because your initiative cannot lobby around specific potential laws or intervene in elections does not mean that it cannot engage in political activity or be involved in public policy. Examples from the IRS of activities that are allowed include the following:
Conducting educational meetings,
Preparing and distributing educational materials
Otherwise considering public policy issues in an educational manner
Certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner
Activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, if conducted in a non-partisan manner
Of course, you are entitled to your own political opinions, but you should be careful about expressing such opinions on behalf of your Initiative so that you are not taking a position on a specific election or piece of legislation.
If your initiative needs to engage in these sorts of activities in the US, we would recommend exploring other types of organizations, such as 501(c)(4) organizations and PACs. A lawyer will be able to help you figure out what you need.