A Resource for CACs: Legislative Advocacy from A to Z.
Use this Legislative Advocacy Toolkit for CACs to build your understanding of the legislative process, find messages that work, and secure the resources that CACs need at the state, federal, and local levels.
(Click on a title to jump to that section. For ease of use, resources are linked in parentheses in the contents section and are mirrored in appropriate toolkit sections below.)
- Public Policy Defined
- Advocacy Defined (Alliance for Justice Definitions and Examples)
- Why Advocate?
- Advocacy Offense/Defense
- Added Benefits
- The Structure of Government in the United States
- The State Legislative Process
- The Federal Legislative Process
- State and Federal Budget Processes
- Advocacy Goals and Strategies
- Knowing Your Policy Makers (State Websites)
- Who to Know
- Meeting With Policy Makers
- Corresponding with Policy Makers
- Advocacy and Lobbying Defined
- Lobbying Rules You Should Know
- Legislative Terms and Definitions
The Importance of Public Policy Advocacy
The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC)/Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) movement is strong and well established. Together we have developed a data driven, evidence based model proven to provide justice and healing for children and families who have experienced abuse. However, the ability to implement this model can be greatly impacted by the policies, regulations, rules and laws within which we operate. Therefore, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment where we must work to create a public policy environment in which the CAC/MDT model can thrive. This includes establishing a favorable legal framework as well as ensuring adequate resources to carry out our mission. Such developments don’t just happen. They require a coordinated approach to educate policy makers and advocate for the needs of the movement and the population we serve. Public policy advocacy is just as essential to our mission as the direct services we provide.
Public Policy is the means by which a governing body maintains order and addresses the needs of its citizens. It includes a collection of laws, rules, regulations, guidelines and the apportionment of shared resources and the appropriation of public funds.
Advocacy is the means by which we work to shape public policy to promote a cause or idea. Advocacy encompasses a wide range of activities designed to influence decision makers. It has been said that to advocate is to represent and empower a disempowered population. This is certainly true in the case of CACs and MDTs working on behalf of victims of abuse.
Advocacy may include but is not limited to:
- Educating the public,
- Organizing a base of support,
- Informing policy makers, and
- Lobbying for the adoption or rejection of legislation. (Note: Lobbying refers to a specific activity designed to influence a specific piece of legislation. All lobbying is advocacy, but not all advocacy is lobbying.)
See this publication from the Alliance for Justice for more on Definitions and Examples of Advocacy
Why Advocate for Public Policy?
Because You Can
While there are rules surrounding the ability of nonprofits to lobby, there are no restrictions on other advocacy efforts. For more information see the section on lobbying contained in this toolkit.
Because You Have a Responsibility To
As a proponent of the CAC/MDT model and movement you are committed to doing everything you can to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve. You play a vital role in the development and implementation of favorable policies, and the securitization of adequate resources. This includes motivating our constituency to get involved. Policy makers rely on those they represent to drive their decision-making process.
Because it Works
CAC staff and MDT members make excellent and effective advocates. The very nature of the CAC/MDT model brings together a wide range of disciplines with a common interest. Policy makers rely on folks like you to keep them informed, make them aware of problems, and develop solutions. Through your advocacy efforts, CACs and MDTs across the country have affected many positive developments.
- At least 32 states have adopted statutory definitions of Children’s Advocacy Centers and Multidisciplinary Teams. This serves to protect the integrity of the model and ensure that a group representing itself as such adheres to a set of nationally recognized standards proven to improve outcomes.
- CACs in at least 39 states have secured state funding to support their efforts.
- No fewer than 15 states have adopted laws providing protections from civil liability for CAC employees acting in good faith. Several others have similar legislation under consideration.
- In response to the mishandling of recordings of forensic interviews, several states have successfully adopted laws providing a clear chain of custody and protections for such recordings.
- At the Federal level, your advocacy efforts have established and secured funding for the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA); dramatically increased funding released to the states from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) for the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victims’ Assistance Grants; caused Congress to pressure the administration to adopt an updated rule that expressly allows VOCA funds to be used for specific CAC activities including Forensic Interviews and Medical Exams; and secured a special set aside (the only one) for providers serving trafficking victims. The list goes on and on.
Coordinating Public Policy is Key to Success
A coordinated strategic approach is key to the success and effectiveness of public policy advocacy. The diverse disciplines of MDTs and the compassionate convictions of advocates and victims alike, combine to provide for a reasoned voice like no other. Local centers can strengthen their voices and maximize their efforts by leveraging the relationships and tapping into the policy expertise of their state chapters. Similarly, centers and chapters can draw upon the state and federal policy expertise of NCA. Together we have fostered relationships with many champions at the state and federal levels. A unified voice is essential to building and maintaining these relationships and developing a dedicated coalition of champions. The synergy created by our combined advocacy efforts at all levels is powerful.
At the federal level, NCA continually meets with and advises Members of Congress and their staff on CAC funding needs for the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA), the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), and other CAC-related issues such as human trafficking. Using the foundation laid by NCA as a starting point for advocacy with Congress, state chapters and local centers have helped their representatives and senators better understand how CACs work, and the vital role they play in serving their communities. This combined effort has made all the difference. For Example:
- Full funding for the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA) has been on the chopping block for the past five years, facing drastic cuts or even elimination. Our combined advocacy efforts ensured there were no such cuts.
- Finalization of the updated VOCA Rule was delayed for almost two years. By leveraging NCA’s Congressional support, fostered by advocates in the field, we successfully compelled DOJ to act. OVC finalized the Rule in July 2016, further providing local centers and chapters with new potential funding opportunities.
The impact of such coordinated efforts translates to the state level as well. Fostering relationships with policy makers is foundational, and leveraging those relationships is instrumental to the success of the CAC model. Local advocacy with strong chapter support has proven to be the most successful strategy for securing favorable policies and resources to support the growth and development of the CAC model across the nation.
To develop a network of support, local centers are always encouraged to educate and foster relationships with their policy makers. But to maximize their efforts, centers should leverage the voice of the state chapter. Similarly, centers and chapters should coordinate with NCA when advocating for policies and resources at the federal level.
Offense and Defense
In addition to being a means for adopting favorable policies and securing adequate resources, advocacy can be a way to guard against costly or burdensome regulations, the loss of resources or other regressive policies that are detrimental to our cause.
Added Benefits of Advocacy
In addition to the obvious benefits of affecting positive changes in policies or securing resources, advocacy serves to excite a base of support which can have many additional positive effects. Advocacy raises awareness and helps to educate everyone about our existence, our cause, and our model. It energizes our team, our allies, and our communities to further our mission. It often attracts media attention, which makes us more visible, ultimately leading to more victims to seeking assistance. All of this can have the effect of helping build a broad network of support and, attracting board members, volunteers, and donors, all of which serves to further our mission.
To further the CAC mission and expand access to services, it is imperative that we prioritize public policy advocacy. Most policy makers want to make the best, most informed decisions to improve their communities and the wellbeing of the constituents they serve. To do so, they want and need your input. As the saying goes: “You’re either at the table, or you’re on the table.” If we don’t participate, those who do will advance their agendas and consume the resources that could otherwise be used to provide justice and healing to the population we serve.
Government and Process
The first key to advocacy is understanding the framework of the process within which we are working. While the nuances of local, state and federal governmental processes are too numerous to address, there is a basic framework to which most adhere. For our purposes, we will focus on the state and federal governmental structure and processes.
The Structure of Government in the United States
The Constitution of the United States and each state therein divides the roles and responsibilities of government into three separate branches: The Legislative; The Executive; and The Judicial. The three branches are intended to be “separate but equal.” To ensure a balance of power, each branch retains various powers over another.
The Legislative Branch makes laws including the appropriation of public funds. The Legislative Branch most often consists of two bodies: a “Senate” and a “House.”
The Executive Branch carries out laws.
The Judicial Branch evaluates and interprets laws.[i]
The Legislative Branch
All but one state legislature are bicameral in nature, meaning they are further divided into two separate bodies. The Senate is a smaller body with members representing a greater number of constituents. The House may be referred to at the state level as The House of Delegates; The House of Representatives; The General Assembly; or the State Assembly. (The state of Nebraska has a unicameral legislature known as “The Legislature.”)
- Each body of the Legislature has an internal structure of its own. This structure typically consists of: A Presiding Officer; A Leadership Team; Committees; Subcommittees; and rank-and-file members.
- The Presiding Officers are elected by the members of the body and are typically referred to as the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. (In the case of the United States Senate, the Vice-President serves as the President of the Senate. However, the proceedings of the Senate are typically controlled by the Senate Majority Leader.)
- The Leadership of a legislative body consists of the most powerful and influential members of the body. The team may be appointed by the presiding officer or elected by the membership and may include: The President or Speaker Pro Tempore; Majority and Minority Leaders; Majority and Minority Whips or Assistant Leaders; and Major Committee Chairs. The Leadership Team may also consist of: Assistant Leaders; Assistant Whips; Committee Vice-Chairs; and senior or otherwise exceptionally influential rank-and-file members. In short, Legislative Leadership is made up of those members who have the most power and influence over the proceedings of the body.
- The President or Speaker Pro Tempore is the person designated to preside over the body in the absence of the Presiding Officer. “Pro Tempore” means: For the time being.
- The Majority Leader refers to the member of the majority party that is typically in charge of the general operations of the body. The Minority Party also has a Minority Leader. The Minority Leader is often included as a member of Leadership for the purpose of representing the position of the minority party in the process.
- The Majority Whip or Assistant Leader is traditionally responsible for ensuring discipline within the party. The Whip acts at the direction of the Presiding Officer and the Majority Leader to convey the position of leadership to the membership of the majority party. The Whip often exercises influence over the membership to earn support for leadership’s position on a particular issue. Such action is referred to as “whipping the vote.” The Whip is also responsible for determining the likely outcome of a particular vote and relaying that prediction to leadership. This is known as the “whip count.”
- Legislative bodies employ a “Committee Process” whereby various pieces of legislation are assigned to committees that presumably have expertise on specific topics. Each body may establish its own committees, but some states have a joint committee process whereby committees are made up of members from both bodies.
- Committees have their own internal structure often including a Committee Chair and Vice Chair. Committee Chairs in some states have the power to set the Committee Agenda meaning they can bring bills before the committee for a vote or they can kill bills by simply not placing them on the agenda. Others rely on a more democratic process to set their agendas.
- For more information on the different types of committees see the “Legislative Lingo” section in the appendix of this toolkit.
- Committee Chairs will often establish Subcommittees as a way of further scrutinizing the specifics of a particular piece of legislation. Subcommittees can be great tools to “perfect” legislation. However, it should be noted that they are sometimes used as a discrete way of adding another layer to the process with the intent of killing a bill.
- The rank and file members are those who are not assigned to a position of leadership. The rank and file generally outnumber the leadership team which contributes to the system of checks and balances. While the primary focus of advocacy should be on leadership, the rank and file should never be ignored.
The Executive Branch
The Executive Branch is responsible for carrying out and enforcing the laws made by the legislature. The Executive Branch is led by the President of the United States or the Governor of a state and consists of Cabinet-level officials, Departments, Divisions, Boards, Commissions and a number of other entities under its authority. At the state level, some high-ranking offices may be elected positions that can act with some autonomy from the Governor. However, their function is still to carry out and enforce the laws made by the Legislature.
While public policy advocacy often focuses on the Legislative Branch, the Executive should not be ignored. Executive agencies often have the authority to develop and implement internal policies and procedures not otherwise proscribed by law. Additionally, laws drafted by the legislature are often intentionally vague and open to interpretation, as we have seen with the interpretation of the VOCA statute and rules. Working closely with executive agencies is vital to the success of the CAC/MDT movement.
Executive agencies most relevant to CACs may include States’ Attorneys General and some variations of Departments of Health and Human Services, and Departments of Public Safety.
The Judicial Branch interprets laws and applies them to individual cases. The Judicial Branch consists of the Supreme Court and various lower courts.
While the Judicial Branch is not typically lobbied on policy issues, they can be invaluable allies. At the state and local level it is not uncommon for the officials from the judiciary to advocate for policy changes. Given that the courts tend to have great familiarity with the CAC/MDT model, they can be strong advocates for its development and expansion. We are aware of at least one instance where a Circuit Court Judge actively lobbied the legislature for a statutory definition and accompanying funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers.
An understanding of the structure framework of your local, state and federal government is essential to knowing where and when to focus your advocacy efforts. NCA and State Chapters are well versed in this arena. It is highly encouraged that centers draw upon this expertise to maximize their efforts.
The State Legislative Process
- An idea for a law is drafted into a bill.
The process for having bills drafted varies from state to state. The Office of the Clerk of either body can generally provide guidance in this area.
- The bill is introduced in one or both houses of the legislature.
The legislative process generally requires a bill to be read before the entire body on three separate occasions on three separate days prior to a vote on passage by that particular house. Some states legislatures consider the introduction of the bill to be “1st reading.” Others require the completion of the committee process prior to 1st reading. Still yet, some states require only two readings of a bill. (In modern times, the reading of the bill number or the short title may be considered a “reading of the bill”)
- The bill is referred to committee. (Bills are typically referred to anywhere from 1 to 3 committees. In this instance a bill is said to be single, double or triple referenced.)If a bill is referred to multiple committees, it will typically flow through “minor committees” first before passing through a major committee such as Judiciary, Finance, or Appropriations. Each committee may consider amendments to the bill.* At times you may request to, or be invited to testify before a committee. It is wise to prepare your remarks or talking points from which to work. (See this Sample of Testimony given by NCA’s Executive Director to the Commission to End Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.) In many instances, written testimony may also be submitted for consideration.
- The bill is reported to the floor for consideration by the entire body.
If a bill completes the committee process, it is reported back to the full body, usually with a recommendation that it pass or that it pass as amended.
- The bill is placed upon its adoption by the full body.
Once before the entire body, there may be another chance for amendments to be offered and debated before a debate on final passage. Each body has its own rules governing amendments and debate. Once in its final form and debate is complete, the membership will vote on passage of the bill.
- The Process is repeated in the other chamber. If adopted by the full body, the bill is then sent to the other chamber where the process is repeated. If the bill is amended in the second chamber, it is returned to the house of origin as amended for their consideration. The house of origin may concur with the amendment(s), concur with a further amendment(s), or refuse to concur. If the two houses do not agree, the bill may be assigned to a conference committee of members of both houses to work out the differences.
- Final Approval.
If a bill is agreed to and completes the process in both chambers, it is then sent to the Governor for approval. The Governor may sign the bill into law, let it become law without his/her signature, or veto the bill and return it to the legislature with an explanation of the objection.
The process by which a bill becomes law is designed to be difficult so that, in theory, only the most well-reasoned and carefully-considered legislation survives. Conversely, the ways in which a bill may die are many. During a given biennium over 200,000 bills are introduced in the states. The vast majority will never be taken up for consideration.
For more on the legislative process in your state visit your state’s legislative website. Click here for information about party control and links to your state’s legislative and executive websites. Additionally, NCA will work with local centers and state chapters to unravel the mysteries of the legislative process.
The Federal Legislative Process
1) Legislation is introduced. Any member can introduce a piece of legislation.
- In the House: Legislation is handed to the clerk of the House or placed in the “hopper.”
- In the Senate: Members must gain recognition of the presiding officer to announce the introduction of a bill during the morning hour. If any senator objects, the introduction of the bill is postponed until the next day.
- For both House and Senate
- The bill is assigned a number. (e.g. HR 1 or S 1)
- The bill is labeled with the sponsor’s name.
- The bill is sent to the Government Printing Office (GPO), and copies are made.
- Senate bills can be jointly sponsored.
- Members can cosponsor the piece of Legislation.
2) Committee Action. The bill is referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate. Most often, the actual referral decision is made by the House or Senate parliamentarian. Bills may be referred to more than one committee, and it may be split so that parts are sent to different committees. The Speaker of the House may set time limits on committees. Bills are placed on the calendar of the committee to which they have been assigned. Failure to act on a bill is equivalent to killing it. Bills in the House can only be released from committee without a proper committee vote by a discharge petition signed by a majority of the House membership (218 members).
- Comments about the bill’s merit are requested by government agencies.
- Bills can be assigned to a subcommittee by Committee Chais.
- Hearings may be held.
- Subcommittees report their findings to the full committee.
- Finally, there is a vote by the full committee – the bill is “ordered to be reported.”
- A committee will hold a “mark-up” session during which it will make revisions and additions. If substantial amendments are made, the committee can order the introduction of a “clean bill” which will include the proposed amendments. This new bill will have a new number and will be sent to the floor while the old bill is discarded. The chamber must approve, change or reject all committee amendments before conducting a final passage vote.
- After the bill is reported, the committee staff prepares a written report explaining why they favor the bill and why they wish to see their amendments, if any, adopted.Committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in the report. The report is sent back to the whole chamber and is placed on the calendar.
- In the House, most bills go to the Rules committee before reaching the floor. The committee adopts rules that will govern the procedures under which the bill will be considered by the House. A “closed rule” sets strict time limits on debate and forbids the introduction of amendments. These rules can have a major impact on whether the bill passes. The rules committee can be bypassed in three ways: 1) members can move rules to be suspended (requires 2/3 vote), 2) a discharge petition can be filed, or 3) the House can move the bill under Regular order.
3) Floor Action
Legislation is placed on the Calendar
- In the House: Bills are placed on one of four House Calendars. They are usually placed on the calendars in the order of which they are reported yet they don’t usually come to floor in this order – some bills never reach the floor at all. The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader decide what will reach the floor and when. (Legislation can also be brought to the floor by a discharge petition.)
- In the Senate: Legislation is placed on the Legislative Calendar. There is also an Executive calendar to deal with treaties and nominations. Scheduling of legislation is the job of the Majority Leader. Bills can be brought to the floor whenever a majority of the Senate chooses.
- In the House: Debate is limited by the rules formulated in the Rules Committee. The Committee of the Whole debates and amends the bill but cannot technically pass it. Debate is guided by the Sponsoring Committee and time is divided equally between proponents and opponents. The Committee decides how much time to allot to each person. Amendments must be germane to the subject of a bill – no riders are allowed. The bill is reported back to the House (to itself) and is voted on. A quorum call is a vote to make sure that there are enough members present (218) to have a final vote. If there is not a quorum, the House will adjourn or will send the Sergeant at Arms out to round up missing members.
- In the Senate: Debate is unlimited unless cloture is invoked. Members can speak as long as they want and amendments need not be germane – riders are often offered. Entire bills can, therefore, be offered as amendments to other bills. Unless cloture is invoked, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by “talking it to death.”
Vote The bill is voted on. If passed, it is then sent to the other chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration. If either chamber does not pass the bill, then it dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill, then it is sent to the President. If the House and Senate pass different bills, they are sent to Conference Committee. Most major legislation goes to a Conference Committee.
4) Conference Committee
- Members from each house form a conference committee and meet to work out the differences. The committee is usually made up of senior members who are appointed by the presiding officers of the committee that originally dealt with the bill. The representatives from each house work to maintain their version of the bill.
- If the Conference Committee reaches a compromise, it prepares a written conference report, which is submitted to each chamber.
- The conference report must be approved by both the House and the Senate.
5) The President
- The bill is sent to the President for review.
- A bill becomes law if signed by the President or if not signed within 10 days and Congress is in session.
- If Congress adjourns before the 10 days and the President has not signed the bill, then it does not become law (“Pocket Veto.”)
- If the President vetoes the bill, it is sent back to Congress with a note listing his/her reasons. The chamber that originated the legislation can attempt to override the veto by a vote of two-thirds of those present. If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers, then it becomes law.
6) The Bill Becomes a Law
Once a bill is signed by the President or his veto is overridden by both houses it becomes law and is assigned an official number.
NCA has extensive expertise in the federal legislative process. Centers and chapters should utilize this expertise to their advantage. Similarly, NCA relies heavily on local centers and state chapters to develop the relationships that are foundational to our efforts. The leveraging of such knowledge and expertise has proven to be invaluable to the movement.
State Budget Process
While there may be countless nuanced differences in the ways states approach their budget processes, most adhere to the same general practices. The main difference between state budgeting and the federal budget is that states’ budgets must be balanced, meaning expenditures may not exceed revenues. The federal government can operate with a budget deficit acting under the assumption that they can always raise taxes when necessary. With the lone exception of Vermont, all states have a legal obligation to adopt a balanced budget either prescribed by their state constitution, statute or judicial decision. Vermont has traditionally balanced its budget as a matter of practice.
Technically 30 states adopt a budget annually while 20 practice biennial budgeting. However, it should be noted that state budgets usually require periodic adjustments during the fiscal year(s) for which they were adopted. Therefore, both annual and biennial budgets are often revisited and adjusted by way of supplemental appropriations bills, executive orders, spending authority adjustments, expenditure reductions, and other “budgetary gimmicks.” Some of these adjustments may require legislative action while others may be implemented unilaterally, by the executive branch. Rulings from the courts may also influence state spending.
For more specific information on your state, follow this link to The National Association of State Budget Offices publication entitled “Budget Processes in the States.”
For a PowerPoint Primer on the state budget process including a sample calendar, click here.
Most states adhere to the following budgetary process:
- Revenue Estimates
To construct a balanced budget, a state must begin with an estimate of anticipated revenue for the upcoming budget cycle. The authority to set revenue estimates varies from state to state. In some, the authority lies with the governor. Others may have an independent office similar to the Congressional Budget Office. Still yet, others will have an office in the legislative branch where this responsibility lies. Several states have mechanisms in place intended to provide for checks and balances in setting the revenue estimate. Whatever method they, employ the end goal is the same; to establish an official revenue estimate which appropriations shall not exceed.
- Appropriation Requests
At some point, the executive branch agencies are afforded the opportunity to make known their needs and wants for the upcoming budget cycle. This is usually initiated by the Governor and generally includes some guidelines commonly referred to as “appropriation request instructions.” Such instructions may include directives that reflect policy priorities of the administration or requirements to help budget writers stay within their target bottom line such as across the board cuts etc.
This stage of the process is a good time for advocates to meet with executive agencies in an effort to become a part of the agencies’ budget requests. If you currently receive state funds you want to make sure that those funds are retained, or even better, increased. Most appropriation request processes include a mechanism for executive agencies to request new or increased appropriations despite any directives requiring cuts. Budget writers want to know what the needs and wants are, even if they are not in a position to honor them.
- Budget Proposals
After receiving and evaluating executive agency appropriation requests, budget writers work on a proposed budget that will be a starting point for the legislature. This process often includes executive budget hearings where agencies are afforded the opportunity to present their requests and make their case for their budget proposals. These hearings may or may not be open to the public. At the conclusion of these meetings, a proposed budget will be drafted for presentation to the legislature. This is most often done by the Governor and is presented at the start of the legislative session. The degree to which the Governor’s proposed budget is seriously considered varies from state to state. Some states may have their own legislative budget offices that draft their own proposals to serve as a starting point.
- Legislative Budget Process
At both the federal and state levels, the power of the purse is vested with the legislative branch. Once the proposed budget has been introduced the legislature begins the process of fine tuning it and preparing it for adoption. The budget bill(s) (some states adopt one budget bill while others adopt a series of bills that comprise the budget) is typically referred to a committee responsible for making a recommendation to the full body.
The committee(s) may further divide sections of the bill into subcommittees. They may hold legislative budget hearings and summon executive agencies to present their proposals and respond to questions. With few exceptions, this process usually happens independently in each legislative body. During the legislative session, and prior to the start of the fiscal year in question, each body will pass its own budget proposal.
Given that these proposals are rarely identical, the budget bill will routinely be referred to a conference committee made up of members of both legislative bodies to resolve the differences between the two. Members of the budget conference committee are widely regarded as the most powerful members of the legislature. If such members can be identified in advance, it is wise to focus your advocacy efforts on earning their support.
After the conference committee resolves the differences between the two houses the bill(s) are returned to each body for final approval. Note: Conference Committee Reports typically can-not be amended. They are presented for an up or down vote. Once approved the bill is enrolled and sent to the Governor for final approval.
- Gubernatorial Approval
Upon completion of the legislative process, the budget bill(s) is presented to the Governor for consideration. The Governor may sign the bill(s), let the bill(s) become law without his/her signature, or veto the bill(s) in its entirety. In many states, the governor enjoys special veto powers that apply to appropriations bills only. Forty-one (41) states afford the governor the authority to veto specific line items in their entirety. Thirty-seven (37) states allow the governor to reduce amounts in specific line items. Twenty-four (24) states allow the governor to veto accompanying language. However, every state has a mechanism in place for the legislature to override a gubernatorial veto. Legislative vote requirements to override a gubernatorial veto of an appropriations bill vary from a simple majority of the members elected to a super majority of three-fourths of the members elected.
Federal Budget Process
For a PowerPoint Primer on the Federal Budget Process click here.
- U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority over all appropriations measures.
- Article 1, Section 9 states: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law…” (This is known as the power of the purse.)
- Under law, public funds may only be used for the purposes for which Congress appropriated the funds.
- Every year, Congress considers 12 appropriations bills, which provide funding for all federal agencies and programs.
- The House and Senate Appropriations Committees each have 12 subcommittees, and each subcommittee has jurisdiction over one regular annual appropriations bill.
- Appropriations funding generally expires at the end of the federal fiscal year – September 30.
2) Appropriations Subcommittee
Budget appropriations go through one of the following appropriations committees.
- Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration
- Commerce, Justice, Science (NCA/CACs are funded here)
- Energy and Water Development
- Financial Services and General Government
- Homeland Security
- Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (Additional child welfare funding available here)
- Legislative Branch
- Military Construction, Veterans Affairs
- State, Foreign Operation
- Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development
3) The Budget Process Begins
- The President starts the budget cycle by submitting his/her proposals in February.
- The President’s submission recommends program spending levels in the form of budget authority (BA). Budget authority does not represent cash to agencies.
- Appropriations bills are the only legal authority for the federal government to make payments from the Treasury.
4) Congressional Budget Resolution
- Congress takes the President’s budget proposal and develops its own budget framework in the form of a budget resolution that outlines top line funding for 5 years.
- However, when the Appropriations Committees receive their overall spending allocations from the budget resolution – these amounts are used for determining discretionary spending for the upcoming fiscal year only.
- The timing of the various stages of the appropriations process tends to vary from year to year.
5) House Appropriations – Floor Action
- In spring, the Appropriations subcommittees hold hearings on program spending.
- Generally, by May or June, both chambers begin drafting and reporting the 12 individual appropriations bills, sending them to the floor for consideration.
- During the fall and winter, the appropriations committees are usually heavily involved in negotiations to resolve differences between the different versions of annual appropriations bills.
6) Senate Appropriations – Floor Action
- The Senate sets its debate conditions through unanimous consent. (The do not have a Rules Committee like the House)
- Similar to the House, amendments must be germane and not attempt to legislate.
- Unlike the House, the Senators may propose amendments to any portion of the bill at any time unless the Senate agrees to set time limits.
7) Conference Action
- Differences in appropriations bills are resolved through a conference report or through an exchange of amendments.
- The conferees generally do not have authority to change provisions that both chambers previously included in their respective bills or add new items. (If new items not previously considered are added, a point of order may be raised when the conference report is brought back to the respective chambers.)
Other Key Concepts
Types of Appropriations Bill
There are 3 types of appropriations bills:
- Regular Appropriations bills
- Regular appropriations bills provide most funding.
- The Appropriations Committees will provide more detailed directions for federal spending through report language.
- Appropriations bills may also provide transfer authority, which allows agencies to shift funds from one account to another. However, agencies cannot make these types of transfers unless first authorized by Congress.
- On the other hand, agencies may generally shift funds within the account without congressional authorization.
- Omnibus and Continuing Resolutions
- Omnibus appropriations bills are measures that combine several appropriations bills together.
- Packaging appropriations bills into fewer bills allow for Congress and the President to resolve outstanding issues more quickly.
- Regular appropriations expire at the end of the fiscal year – Sept. 30. If no action on one or more regular appropriations bills has taken place by Oct. 1, the agencies funded must cease activities due to the lack of budget authority. (Some activities are exempted – such as security-related funding.) This results in a government shutdown.
- To avoid a government shutdown, Congress will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) that keeps the federal agencies functioning at current budget levels, basically the status quo.
- Supplemental Appropriations bill
- Congress may also consider supplemental appropriations measures that typically provide or increase funding for certain programs or activities.
- Similar to regular appropriations bill, supplementals may provide funding for unforeseen needs (such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan); or funding for recovery of hurricanes, earthquakes, and natural disasters.
Discretionary vs. Mandatory
Federal spending is divided into 2 categories: discretionary and mandatory (direct) spending.
- Discretionary spending (such as funding for the Victims of Child Abuse Act and other DOJ programs) is controlled by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees through the appropriations process – meaning the Appropriations Committees have discretion on program funding from year to year.
- Mandatory (direct) spending is predominantly for entitlement programs. The appropriations committees have limited control over funding for entitlements – since the amount was previously agreed to and enacted into law. Examples include Social Security and Medicare funding.
- Throughout the entire appropriations process, any bill, amendment, or conference report that exceeds the appropriations allocations are not allowed.
- For example, the House FY13 CJS Appropriations Subcommittee was given a set allocation of $51.1 Billion for that fiscal year. No legislative proposal that would increase the CJS bill above $51.1B was allowed.
Authorization vs. Appropriation
- Authorization bills are measures that establish, continue, or modify federal agencies or programs.
- An authorization measure will establish funding levels for programs – including any limits or ceilings.
- For example, the Victims of Child Abuse Act is an authorization bill passed through of the Judiciary Committees with a statutory funding limit of $20 million.
- Authorization bills will specify funding levels, but these programs will not actually receive funding until they are included in an appropriations bill.
- Budget/Appropriations rescissions cancel previously enacted budget authority (spending).
- The President may recommend rescissions to Congress, but it is up to Congress to act on them.
- Congress may decide to approve, not approve or partially approve the recommended rescission.
Determining Your Advocacy Goals
The first step in Advocating for Public Policy is to determine your goals. What policies would you like to see developed or changed? It may help to start with your “pie in the sky” desires. In other words, start with a broad list that includes everything you can think of that would advance your cause. From that list determine which goals are achievable in the short-term, which are “intermediate goals” that will be continually worked on over a period of time, and which are your long-term or ultimate goals. For example:
- Long-Term Goal: Ensure statewide access to Children’s Advocacy Centers with adequate resources to provide a complete array of wrap-around services to provide justice and healing to child victims of abuse.
- Intermediate Goal: Develop a network of support by establishing relationships with influential policy makers, grassroots advocates, similarly aligned organizations and the community at large.
- Short-Term Goal: Adopt a statutory definition of Children’s Advocacy Centers and secure state funding to support their efforts.
Your goals should take into consideration your needs, your wants, and your organizational capacity to work towards achieving them. NCA can help you identify policies that have proven helpful in other states.
Opportunity and the Policy/Political Environment
When developing a plan for public policy advocacy, it is important to recognize the multifaceted nature of the political environment. There are many factors to consider such as: the political leanings of a legislative body; the controversial nature of certain topics; the momentum of various issues; the budget climate; timing issues such as election years, etc. While there is often little appetite to address controversial issues in an election year, members often look for good things upon which to campaign. Helping abused children is a strong issue for a candidate looking for something good to throw their support behind. The point is, while we may clearly establish our goals and priorities, we must also be flexible enough to realize when to back off on our top priorities and when an opportunity presents itself to pursue a goal of lesser priority. For example:
- A time when policy makers are struggling with a budget deficit might not be the best time to pursue new or increased state funding. (However, if the stars align, you may be able to convince appropriators that the CAC model saves money and is worth investing in.)
- A time when a major news story breaks such as the Sandusky/Penn State scandal might be a good time to shift your focus to ride the wave of awareness or public outrage to affect change in a variety of areas.
- Even something such as the release of a major motion picture, as in the case of Spotlight, could be a cue to pursue changes such as the elimination of the Statute of Limitations.
While we might not always be able to control when we address certain issues, we can monitor the political and public environments for clues that will tell us when to act and when to back off. Some tips for monitoring the environment and recognizing opportunities include:
- Start with your own representative or any members with whom you may have a personal relationship to get a sense of the current political environment and determine who may be willing to work on your issue, and what issues may be taboo to certain members;
- Identify committees that typically work on CAC related issues and talk to committee members and staff to get a feel for their leanings, priorities and willingness to take on your issues;
- Track the process: bills introduced, sponsors of related bills, committee agendas, votes on issues, etc.;
- Communicate with ally organizations and coalitions with similar policy concerns and objectives;
- Monitor the actions of any opposition to your issues;
- Keep up with the news coverage of the political proceedings in your state;
- Attend hearings, meetings and other events at which issues are discussed; and
- Monitor notices and publications advertising meetings and or opportunities for public comment on issues.
Developing a Legislative/Public Policy Agenda
Taking into consideration your goals and the current political/budgetary climate, you should work with your state chapter and member centers to develop a legislative and public policy agenda. It is highly recommended that this be done in a manner that conforms with a set of “Public Policy Protocols” agreed to by the state chapter and its member centers to ensure that everyone is on the same page and speaking with one voice. A disjointed approach is a recipe for failure and can be toxic to the movement as a whole.
Your public policy agenda should categorize policies you intend to pursue, policies you may support or oppose, and issues you will monitor. Some states have found it helpful to take a “Three Tiered” approach when developing their legislative agenda. (See this Sample Legislative & Public Policy Agenda from the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Washington.)
- Tier 1 Should include specific items you will actively pursue such as a statutory definition of CACs, a state appropriation, or immunity from civil liability for CAC employees acting in good faith.
- Tier 2 Should include issues likely to come up during the session that you may either support or oppose such as Erin’s Law or changes to the statute of limitations.
- Tier 3 Should include a general list of topics you will monitor but may or may not weigh in on such as sex-offender sentencing, mandated reporting, or issues affecting partner agencies.
This is just one suggested approach. You may find another that works best for you.
(See this Sample of NCA’s 2016 Federal Legislative Priorities.)
Build Framework for Future Opportunities
We’ve all heard the saying “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” There is definitely some truth to this when it comes to advocating for public policy changes. In an ideal world, we could identify good policy, push a button, and implement it. However, our system is intentionally designed to make it very difficult to pass a law. Even the best ideas may take years to come to fruition. In most instances, the timing of opportunities is beyond our control. There are however a number of ways we can lay a solid foundation to be better positioned to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. This requires us to always maintain a focus on our long-term goals. To position yourself to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they arise it is wise to:
- Continuously build your network of support. Educate policy makers, staff and the public about who you are and what you do. Show them your results and earn their support.
- Identify and develop relationships with additional allies such as lawyers, judges, private sector professionals who may be able to assist you in building community support or connecting with your policy makers.
- Continue to research problems and brainstorm potential solutions. Continuously collect, and analyze new data and statistics that will help you make your case.
- Connect with other state chapters and CACs to explore new ideas and solutions developing across the movement.
Because of the difficult and sometimes ugly nature of politics and public policy advocacy, it is easy to focus on the negatives when your bill dies, your funding gets cut, or regressive policies are adopted. The important thing to remember is, we are playing a long game. As Dr. M.L. King noted, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” While your bill may have died, it is likely that you developed some relationships or raised awareness as you ushered it through the process. While your funding may have been cut it was likely not a painless process for anyone involved. You likely earned some sympathy from members who will look to make it up to you when they can. Focus on the positives, celebrate small victories and regroup for the next round. You have a good cause and a good model. Eventually, someone will buy what you are selling.
Information adapted from a publication from the WK Kellogg Foundation Advocacy Handbook http://ww2.wkkf.org/advocacyhandbook/page5e1.html
Getting to Know Your Policy Makers
The Development of Public Policy is a People Powered Enterprise
Built on Relationships, Trust and Friendship[ii]
As a Constituent
The best place to start is with your own representatives. As their constituent, they were elected to represent you. They want to know the people in their district. They want to know their local organizations. And, they want to know the issues you face and how they can help address them. Afford them that opportunity. Reach out to them and request a meeting. Invite them to your center for a tour. Take every opportunity you can to connect with them and educate them about who you are and what you do. Developing this relationship first can set the table and open doors for opportunities to connect with other, perhaps more influential members.
- If your representative has a staff, get to know them too. They can be an invaluable resource, and they often have more time to devote to helping you find your way.
- Draw upon any connections that members of your MDT may have to help you get a foot in the door.
As an Advocate
After first developing a relationship with your own representatives you may want to wade into the larger arena. The best place to start is to identify those members best positioned to help your cause. There is a power structure within each legislative body and getting to the right members can make all the difference. If you have an existing relationship with a member from your district or elsewhere, they can often help to point you in the right direction. Otherwise, there is a wealth of information available on your state legislature’s website. Remember, don’t be afraid to use any connections your MDT may have as well.
The balance of power within a legislative body leans heavily towards the “leadership team,” followed by major committee chairs, major committee members, minor committee chairs and the leadership in the minority party. Within each of these groups, members of the majority party often enjoy preferential treatment. Seniority may play a role although not nearly as much as it does at the federal level. Rising stars can often be readily identified.
- If you can identify and develop a relationship with one influential member (or their staff) you will unlock a wealth of knowledge and advice about which doors to knock on next. This will help maximize your efforts while using limited resources.
Who to Know
Each legislative body has a presiding officer, either the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate. The presiding officer wields enormous power over what passes and what dies. They are often difficult to get to as they are extremely busy and must necessarily concern themselves with big picture items. They lean heavily on the advice of their closest members. Identify these members and focus your efforts there. Unless you have a preexisting inside track or can make your cause a pillar of their agenda, it is often not necessary or possible to get to the presiding officer.
The top brass in the “Leadership Team” is the Majority Leader. This person is often equally inaccessible as is the Majority Whip. (See the “Legislative Terms and Definitions” section contained in Appendix A of this toolkit for more on these positions.) While they also have enormous power their primary concern lies in controlling the general direction of the body. They will also lean heavily on their committee chairs to handle the details. If you can get to these members, do it. But your efforts may be best focused at the committee level.
Committee Chairs and Membership
The bulk of the proverbial legislative water is carried at the committee level. The process varies across the states, but all use some form of committees to “perfect” legislation before bringing it to the floor for a vote on passage. There are “major committees” such as Appropriations or Judiciary and “minor” committees such as Juvenile Justice or Children’s and Families’ Issues. Bills are typically referred to multiple committees, usually a minor committee or two, then a major committee before being brought to the floor for a vote on passage. Let your state’s committee process guide the focus of your efforts.
Identify those committees that are likely to handle your issues. Try to get a meeting with the Committee Chair and his or her staff to let them know who you are and what you do. Offer yourself as a resource for them should relevant issues arise. Next, if you have the capacity, meet with members of that committee to make similar connections.
Note: if you are lobbying for the passage of a particular bill you will need to meet with the Chair and the Members of the Committee in possession of the bill. Having established a relationship beforehand can help you get that meeting with the right people. (See the lobbying section of this toolkit.)
- Relationships with Committee Staff might be the most important ones you can develop. Staff are the ones who put the pen to the paper and write the policies. Staff rely on you to help them do it and do it right. They want and need a relationship with advocates. Make sure that Committee staff know who you are and how to reach you when relevant issues arise.
- Also, staff can be the key to getting that meeting with members. Never underestimate the importance of developing a relationship with legislative staffers. It may be more important than meeting with the members.
Support for Children’s Advocacy Centers is often found to be a non-partisan, apolitical issue. No member who wants to show their support should be ignored. Remember, there is an election every couple of years. Today’s back bench minority delegate could be tomorrow’s Senate President, and today’s minor committee intern could be tomorrow’s Governor. Cast a wide net when building that network of support.
Meeting with Policy Makers
You have identified the influential policy makers who can help advance your cause, and you have arranged a meeting with them or their staff. Now what? How do you get the most out of that meeting?
Make Preparation a Priority
- Know exactly who you are meeting with. Know their title and how to address them. Addressing them by their elected title is a good default: Senator Snyder, Delegate Perdue or Representative Boggs will often suffice. However, if they have a more prestigious position within the body be mindful of that. Mr. Speaker or Madam Chair will give further recognition to their position and is the proper way to address such members of leadership.
- Know their additional roles in the process such as committee assignments.
- When possible know their political leanings and policy priorities. (Be weary of voting records as they are often misleading.) It is best to give them the benefit of the doubt that they oppose child abuse and support our efforts.
- When possible, get to know any staff they may have. At the state level, not all members will have staff, but most committees do. Staff can be your most important connections.
Have a Plan – Prepare in Advance as a Team
- Draft a set of talking points and rehearse them. (See this Sample of NCA’s Hill Day Talking Points.)
- If you are meeting as a group, know who is going to take the lead; who will address which issues; and who will answer anticipated questions.
- Members are generally going to want to know three things up front:
- Who are you?
- What do you want?
- What do you want me to do about it?
- Additionally you should be prepared to answer
- Who will oppose your proposal and why?
- What will it Cost?
Never Guess at or Exaggerate Facts
- This is easily seen through.
- Your integrity, once lost, is difficult to recover.
- It is okay to follow up with answers if you don’t know on the spot. (Follow up promptly!)
Speak in Plain Terms
- Limit the use of acronyms, lingo and jargon commonly used in the field. Everyone can’t be expected to know what you’re talking about and the use of such terms can cause your audience to feel talked down to.
Backup Your Talking Points
- Have statistics and data to support your claims
- Local stories can help lend a human face to the issue
Brevity is important
- Be prepared to summarize your issue in 2 to 3 minutes. That might be all you get.
Draw on Their Expertise
- Ask for advice on your next steps. What will be your hurdles? Who to meet with next etc.?
- Stick to your issue. Don’t get sucked into a debate on climate change when you’re there to discuss Children’s Advocacy Centers.
- Recognize the privacy of your conversation. If you are made privy to inside information, don’t be the one to spread it. That’s how rumors get started, and you don’t want to be the source.
Treat Staff with the Same Respect as the Member
- Staff can be your best ally or your barrier to entry.
Have Materials to Leave Behind
- Staff rely heavily on this information when advising their members.
- Meetings routinely get cut short or even canceled. Summary documents are invaluable to members and staff.
- See this example from West Virginia.
Establish Yourself as a Resource
- Members and Staff rely on experts in the field to advise them on issues. When CAC-related issues arise, be sure that they know you and how to reach you.
- Encourage them to contact you when your issues arise. Make your position matter.
- Offer your expertise on facts and figures. They may use them to help write a speech.
Create Opportunities to Build Relationships
- Invite them to visit your center the next time they are in town.
- Follow up meetings with a thank you letter or additional materials.
Educate, Educate, Educate
- Never assume that anyone knows who you are or exactly what you do. Even your biggest champions might not fully understand the CAC/MDT model.
- Get a sense for their general knowledge and walk them through it accordingly.
- If you’re asking them to do something, first thank them for something they’ve done.
- For example: “Mr. Chairman, we appreciate your support that helped us secure state funding last year, and we hope that you are as proud of your efforts as we are. With those funds, we were able to… We hope that you will now help us expand our efforts by supporting our request for an increase in the amount of… With these funds we will be able to…”
For more on meeting with policy makers see this document from the Alaska Children’s Alliance.
Corresponding with Policy Makers
Aside from meeting in person with your policy makers, there are many other ways and reasons to correspond with them. Emails, phone calls, and letter writing can be effective ways to communicate your position or further develop your network of support. Policy makers highly value such correspondence. However, due to the sheer volume they receive, it is imperative that yours stand out. Polite, concise, well thought out and reasoned correspondence rises to the top. No matter what format you choose there are some basic guidelines and principals you should observe.
Reasons to Contact Your Policy Makers
There are many reasons to correspond with policy makers in ways other than face to face. Meetings can be hard to get. You may want to:
- Introduce yourself and your organization;
- Offer yourself as a reference;
- Ask for support for a policy under consideration;
- Show appreciation for support; or
- Extend congratulations on an accomplishment.
Tips for Effective Correspondence
- Properly address your target. Know their most prestigious title and use it.
- Clearly identify yourself. Make sure they know how to reach you if they need to.
- Be polite. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Think “more flies with honey.”
- Be brief and concise. Remember the “1-2 rule.” Keep Letters 1-2 pages; Emails 1-2 paragraphs; and Phone Calls 1-2 minutes.
- Personalization is preferred. Put it in your own words. Make a personal connection.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms. Don’t assume they know what you’re talking about.
- Stick to a single issue. If you have multiple issues multiple letters, emails or calls are preferred.
- Be upfront. Convey your purpose at the outset. Include bill numbers if relevant.
- Include an enclosure or attachment. Backup information is always appreciated.
- Show appreciation if possible. There are many great public servants who have done much to help our cause. It is a difficult and often thankless job. Give credit where credit is due.
Strategies to Consider
Correspondence campaigns can be initiated via action alerts. “Canned” letters, postcards, or emails, along with phone calls can be an effective way to demonstrate a range of support or opposition. However, individualized correspondence from a constituent will generally be prioritized.
Letter writing, though considered old fashioned by some, remains the most effective alternative way to correspond with a policy maker. Emails are easy to ignore, and phone calls rarely connect directly with the target individual. An actual letter is physically opened, usually read and often filed for future reference. A well-constructed thoughtfully-reasoned personal letter is a highly effective way to communicate with a policy maker.
Follow these links for samples of letters for a variety of purposes:
- Support for a Bill, Federal (Erin’s Law)
- Support for a Bill, State (New Jersey)
- Support for a Bill, STATE (Maryland)
- Thank You for Bill Introduction
- Congratulations on Election
- Congratulations on Re-Election
- Funding Support Template
Email is a quick and easy way for a network of support to engage a policy maker. Email is most frequently and effectively used to show a wide range of support in a short period of time. Use email when time is of the essence. However, emails are easily ignored so they should never be used as your primary form of communication. The same general rules that apply to letters should be observed through email. Concise brevity is the key to an effective email.
A direct phone call with a policy maker can be as valuable as a face-to-face meeting. However, more often than not a phone call will be fielded by a receptionist who will do little more than make note of your call.
Phone calls are most useful as a means to show a strong stance on a position in a short period of time. The key to an effective phone campaign is a high volume of calls.
Even after all this time and with all this technology, a handwritten note on a personalized card, where appropriate, is a time-proven way to make a personal connection and build that network of support.
No matter the medium you use, the important thing is to connect with your policy makers on a professional and personal level. Developing strong, lasting relationships is absolutely essential to building a lasting network of support for the CAC/MDT model. NCA is well versed in corresponding with policy makers and can help you develop a strategy that works.
Lobbying vs. Advocacy
Advocacy: What is it?
To advocate is to support, speak in favor of, recommend, defend, plead, or argue in favor of a cause or idea on behalf of others. While advocacy encompasses many different activities, the basic purpose is to represent and empower a disempowered population.
While lobbying is one type of advocacy, not all advocacy is lobbying. Advocacy in general casts a wide net. It might include organizing a group of interested parties to show general support or educating policy makers and the public about your cause or issue. You may inform your policy makers about how the funds you have received have helped the population you serve. You may educate them about the effects of specific policies on your constituency. And, you can invite them to visit your center to show them firsthand how you operate and how their support can make a difference. Such activities become lobbying if they call for specific action on introduced or pending legislation.
Lobbying: What is it?
In general, lobbying refers to specific activities that are in direct support of or opposition to a specific piece of legislation that directly impacts your organization at the expense of other similar organizations. Lobbying may include asking a member of the legislature to vote for or against a bill or amendment, urging your membership to contact their legislator to urge them to take specific action on legislation, or preparing materials or organizing events in support of lobbying activities.
Each state may vary their definitions of what constitutes lobbying, so you should seek legal advice regarding the rules in your state. At the federal level, is not considered lobbying for CACs to call or speak to members about child abuse legislation that is more general and impacts the entire issue area. It would become lobbying when you seek to include CACs specifically in the bill that gives them a specific advantage not given to all child abuse service providers. For example, advocating for Erin’s Law, background checks in the schools or better trafficking laws would not be considered lobbying, unless the bill specifically discusses the role CACs play in it. Another example, advocating for Congress to release as much funding as possible from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) for VOCA is not considered lobbying. It becomes lobbying if you advocate for Congress to specifically fund CACs out of the CVF.
Lobbying Rules You Should Know
There is often some confusion surrounding nonprofit organizations and the degree to which they are permitted to lobby. The truth of the matter is, not only do nonprofits have the right to lobby; they have a responsibility to do it. The only limitations to consider are how much lobbying you can do and retain your 501(c)3 status, and the extent to which you have unrestricted funds that can be used for lobbying activities. Also, it is important to note that nonprofits usually have a broad definition of what constitutes their advocacy efforts. There are generally two types of lobbying, grassroots and direct. Grassroots lobbying is encouraging the public to contact their policy makers to urge specific action on a specific piece of legislation. Direct lobbying is making direct contact with a policy maker to urge such action.
States have their own laws, rules and regulations that may apply to your lobbying efforts. These rules can vary widely from state to state. It is highly recommended that you research and learn these regulations in your state. To learn more about lobbyist registration and reporting requirements in your state you can contact your state Attorney General, Secretary of State, and or a state association of nonprofits.
In most cases one can register as a lobbyist for a nominal fee. In many cases it is not necessary for every individual who engages in lobbying activities to register as a lobbyist. However there are some advantages to being registered. Most states maintain a list of registered lobbyists and their related topics. Many law makers will use this list to identify people as resources for a particular issue. Again, you should check your local laws surrounding lobbyist registration and reporting requirements.
Federal Law makes clear that it is legal for nonprofit organizations to lobby:
In 1934, Congress specified that certain organizations could be exempt from federal income taxes, provided that, among other things, “no substantial part of the activities of” such organizations were to be used for the “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation…” 26U.S.C.§501(c)3. This, in a sense, opened the door for nonprofit organizations to engage in lobbying efforts. However, it was left open to interpretation, to what extent these activities are acceptable without jeopardizing an organization’s tax-exempt status. What is the meaning of “no substantial part”?
What is the meaning of “no substantial part”?
These are murky waters indeed. As is often the case, this law is vague and open to interpretation. Because the loss of tax-exempt status would be devastating to many nonprofit organizations, the “insubstantial portion” test has always erred on the side of caution. According to the Alliance for Justice:
Most tax practitioners generally advise that charities can safely devote 3-5% of their overall activities toward lobbying… – The insubstantial part test defines lobbying as “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation” and includes any communication that “contacts, or urges the public to contact, members of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation or advocates for the adoption or rejection of legislation. 
It is worth noting that activities that do not generate expenses (such as work completed by volunteers) do not count as lobbying.
Further, Federal lobbying rules on whether organizations need to register as a lobbyist are governed by with a 2-prong test:
- Organizations have at least one contact with Congress/federal agency. This can be a phone call, email, or in-person meeting. It includes emails to staff as well. This part of the test is easily and usually met.
- However, to be considered lobbying, the organization also has to spend at least 20% of its time on “lobbying activities.” Remember that not all advocacy is lobbying. For example, NCA’s Director of Government Affairs is a registered lobbyist because she spends more than 20% of her time each week on activities that fall into the direct lobbying category. However, most advocates don’t meet this second part of the test. As organizations, you would have to spend at least 8 hours of a 40 hour work week directly on lobbying Congress.
In 1976, forty-two years later, Congress offered further clarification and afforded nonprofit organizations some clear definitions and guidelines in exchange for the reporting of related activities. Nonprofits can elect to be covered by these rules by “taking the 501(h) election.” It is recommended that State Chapters and local CACs explore the benefits of the 501(h) election and consult with their boards and local attorneys to determine if taking the 501(h) election is right for them.
Taking the election is simple. It requires filling out a one-page form, IRS Form 5768 and returning it to the IRS. Taking the election need only be done once and will remain in effect unless the organization actively revokes the election. If the election is taken, nonprofits are then required to report lobbying expenditures annually through the IRS Form 990.
Many 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations, including Children’s Advocacy Centers and State Chapters have chosen to take the 501(h) election.
A Comparison of the Rules for Nonprofits that Lobby
|Nonprofit that takes the 501(h) Election||Nonprofits subject to the “insubstantial part” test|
|What is considered lobbying?||Clear definitions with specific exclusions for public policy activities that are not considered lobbying and therefore not subject to the spending limits||Not defined and no activities specifically excluded; therefore, a non-electing nonprofit would need to track and account for all public policy activities|
|Spending limits||Generous and clear – 20% of first $500,000 of “exempt purpose expenditures” with decreasing percentages up to a $1 million cap||Subjective and arbitrary – lobbying cannot be “substantial,” but no established limits and “substantial” is not defined|
|What is counted||Only count dollars spent – not volunteer and other cost-free activities||Count volunteer time as well as dollars spent|
|Recordkeeping and reporting||Document all lobbying expenses; report numbers only on annual Form 990A||Document all lobbying activities and expenses; provide detailed descriptions of the legislative activities and a classified schedule of the expenses paid or incurred on the annual Form 990A|
|Penalties for exceeding limits||Organization assessed a 25% excise tax on excess over limits in a year; no specific liability for officers/directors||Organization assessed a 5% excise tax on all lobbying expenses if “substantial lobbying” results in revocation; officers/directors subject to 5% if “substantial lobbying” deemed willfully or unreasonably authorized|
|Revocation of tax exemption||Occurs only if lobbying exceeds 150% of limits generally over 4 years||Could happen if “substantial lobbying” occurs in a single year|
|Risk of audit||No greater risk of audit||No greater risk of audit|
Using Certain Funds for Lobbying
All entities should exercise caution when using certain funds for lobbying. With few exceptions, nonprofits are not permitted to lobby with government funds whether received by way of “contract” or “grant.” As a condition of receiving federal grants, nonprofits must ensure that none of those funds are used to attempt to influence any federal or state legislation, through direct or grass roots lobbying campaigns as defined by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB). These rules are similar to the IRS rules. However, there are some differences. In general, nonprofits that receive government funds can lobby with their non-government funds provided that said funds are free from such a prohibition. See Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), 48 C.F.R. §§ 31.205-22; 31-701 et seq. – See more at: https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/taking-the-501h-election#sthash.YWDxFdX5.dpuf
While it is clear that nonprofits are permitted to lobby, engaging in election activities is an entirely different story. According to the federal tax code “nonprofit organizations defined as 501(c)3 charities may not conduct partisan political activities in support of or opposition to a candidate running for public office.” The key word is partisan. Activities that are considered partisan include:
- Endorsing or publicly opposing a candidate who is running for public office;
- Making campaign-related contributions or expenditures; or
- Letting candidates use the agency’s facilities (unless there is equal access available to all the candidates).
However, nonprofits can engage in non-partisan election activities such as promoting or assisting in voter registration, hosting candidate forums and perhaps, most importantly, continuing to do issue advocacy throughout the election cycle.
Public policy advocacy is absolutely essential to our overall mission. Often, our advocacy efforts require us to directly lobby for favorable policies. With your help NCA has established a powerful lobbying and advocacy presence at the federal level. NCA can help you develop a strategy to foster a similar presence at the state level. It is rare for an advocacy organization to have such wide-ranging support as CACs enjoy. Conceptually everyone supports our efforts. The merits of the CAC model are a lobbyists dream. Together we can usher these dreams into reality. The collective efforts of CACs/MDTs, state chapters, NCA, and policy makers can and will improve outcomes for children, families, and communities on the whole.
Appendix A: Legislative Terms and Definitions
|Act||legislation enacted into law. A bill which has passed both houses of the Legislature, been enrolled, certified, approved by the Governor, passed over the Governor’s veto, or which has become law without the approval of the Governor.|
|Adjournment||termination or closing of a session of the Legislature or committee until another set time for meeting.|
|Adjournment sine die||final adjournment of legislative body “without day” being set for reconvening.|
|Adoption||approval or acceptance; usually applied to amendments, resolutions and motions.|
|Advice and Consent||confirmation by the Senate.|
|Agenda||list of action or bills to be considered by standing committees issued prior to scheduled meeting.|
|Amendment||changes in pending legislation by adding, deleting or modifying material.|
|Appropriation||money allocated by the Legislature to various department or agencies for their operation.|
|Bicameral||a legislature composed of two houses (House and Senate.) Only the State of Nebraska has a unicameral, or one house, Legislature.|
|Bill||a proposal for the enactment of a new law, the amendment or repeal of an existing one, or appropriation of public money.|
|Budget||a proposal for the expenditure of public dollars during a given fiscal year.|
|Calendar||listing of bills and resolutions reported out of committees and ready for floor action.|
|Caucus||an informational meeting of a group of members usually of the same political party to discuss policy or legislation.|
|Chair||presiding officer of the Legislature such as the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate or a committee chairman.|
|Chamber||the area reserved for members and staff for conducting legislative sessions – also called the “floor”|
|Clerk||chief administrative and parliamentary officer of the House or Senate. The custodian of the official records.|
|Cloture||a motion generally used at the congressional level in the Senate to end a filibuster. Invoking cloture in the US Senate requires a vote by three-fifths of the full Senate. If cloture is invoked further debate is limited to 30 hours, it is not a vote on passage of the piece od legislation.|
|Committee||a division within the House of Senate, to which members are assigned, that has jurisdiction over a set area. Once a bill is introduced, it is assigned to the appropriate committee(s) for consideration.|
|a committee made up of members from both houses, appointed by the presiding officer of each house to try to resolve differences in legislative measures. Typically, a majority of the conferees of each house is required to approve a compromise of matters in disagreement before submitting a report to the entire membership of each house for final approval. Conference reports may not be amended.|
Discharge of a Committee
|an action taken by a legislative body to force a bill or resolution out of committee and to the floor for consideration.|
|a committee established to work between sessions.|
|a committee composed of members from both houses.|
|a committee appointed by the Speaker or the President to handle specific matters and usually dissolved when the purpose is accomplished.|
|a committee of members appointed by the Speaker and the President at the beginning of a Legislature. The have continuing responsibility in a general field of legislative activity. The Committee name reflects their area of jurisdiction, i.e., Education, Appropriations, Health, etc.|
|a small committee appointed by standing committee chair to research and study a bill or a problem ant to report findings to the entire committee|
|Concurrence||action of one house agreeing to or approving a proposal or action by the other body.|
|Conference||after the state of disagreement has been reached, a motion to ask for a conference may be made by the house refusing to recede from its position on a measure.|
|Conference Report||the outline of changes to a bill that have been agreed upon by the conference committee. The report must be accepted by the House and the Senate for the bill to be approved. A conference report may not be amended.|
|Congressional Hearing||an official meeting of a committee or subcommittee held to obtain information on a bill or an issue.|
|Constituent||a citizen residing within the district of a legislator.|
|Convene||to assemble the meeting of the Legislature daily or at the beginning of the session.|
|Co-Sponsor||a member or members that add their names formally in support of another member’s (lead-sponsor’s) bill.|
|Debate||discussion of a matter according to parliamentary rules.|
|Decorum||proper conduct of legislator as set forth in the rules of each chamber.|
|Dilatory||deliberate use of parliamentary procedure to delay.|
|Division||a method of voting in which only the numerical result is recorded.|
|Division of Question||procedure to separate a matter to be voted upon into two or more questions.|
|Do Pass||the affirmative recommendation made by a committee in sending a bill to the floor for additional action; “do pass as amended” indicates committee recommends certain changes in a bill.|
|Enacting Clause||that clause of a bill or of an act which formally expresses the legislative sanction. It varies in different states but usually begins “Be it enacted”.|
|Engrossed Bill||a version of a bill which includes all adopted amendments of the house of origin attached to the original measure.|
|Enrolled Bill||the final official version of a bill as agreed to by both houses containing all necessary signatures.|
||an informal term for extended debate used to prevent a vote on a bill.|
|First Reading||a reading of a bill for informational purposes|
|Floor||the area where the business of the full Senate or House is conducted. (The Chamber)|
|Gallery||a balcony in the House or Senate chamber from which visitors may view the proceedings of the Legislature.|
|Germaneness||the relevance or appropriateness of amendments to a bill.|
|Hearing||a public meeting of a legislative committee for the purpose of taking testimony concerning pending legislation.|
|Hopper||the term used for the place where bills, etc. are “deposited” for introduction. To file a bill for introduction is to “get it in the hopper.”|
|Indefinite Postponement||a form of final adverse disposition of a proposal for that session of the Legislature. A question which has been postponed indefinitely may not again be acted upon during a session.|
|Initiative||the act of permitting the people to submit issues to the Legislature or by was of constitutional amendments. (Not permitted in all states.)|
|Interim Committee||Legislative committee authorized by the Legislature to study a particular subject between sessions.|
|Introduction of Legislation||the act of formally putting a bill before the body, usually by assigning it a bill number, reading the title of the bill and referring it to the appropriate committee(s).|
|Jefferson’s Manual||the parliamentary authority which governs the parliamentary practices in 13 state legislative chambers where the standing rules are silent or inexplicit.|
|Journal||an official chronological record of each house containing rollcall votes, attendance records, committee assignments, daily record of events, but rarely a verbatim transcript.|
|Lay on the Table||the postponement of a matter which may later be brought up for consideration by a motion to “take from the table”. Neither motion is debatable.|
|Lay Over||the postponement of consideration of a legislative measure.|
|Leadership||the most powerful members of the majority and minority parties. Leadership generally consists of the presiding officers, majority and minority leaders, whips and major committee chairs. Most often used to refer to the leaders of the majority party.|
|Lobbyist||a person who seeks directly or indirectly to encourage the passage, defeat or modification of any legislation.|
|Majority||the number of members in each chamber generally necessary to pass legislation, etc.; also a group of legislators usually of the same political party who have the greatest number of elected members and who control top leadership positions.|
|Majority Leader||a position, appointed by the presiding officer or elected by the majority party membership in each chamber. The Majority Leader generally controls the schedules and workings of each chamber. In the United States Senate, the majority Leader is first in command, although the vice president of the United States is the president of the Senate. In the US House, the Majority Leader is second in command behind the Speaker of the House.|
|Mark-up||the consideration of a bill in subcommittee or committee during which the bill is actually written on to indicate revisions.|
|Minority||a group of legislators usually of the same political party which numbers the fewest members.|
|Motion||a proposal made to the presiding officer calling for specific action. The principal tool used in the transaction of legislative business. Motions are of various order, rank, precedence and class as established through parliamentary practice and rules.|
|Motion to Recommit||a call to send a bill that is currently being considered on the floor back to the committee of jurisdiction for further consideration.|
|On the Floor||under consideration by the full House or Senate.|
|Parliamentary Inquiry||a question regarding procedure, directed to the chair.|
|Parliamentary Law||recognized rules, precedents and usages of legislative bodies by which their procedure is regulated.|
|Point of Order||a question raised by a member when he doubts the correctness of a procedure being followed. Such a point requires a ruling from the presiding officer, is not debatable and is subject to appeal to the house in which the point of order is raised.|
|Postpone Indefinitely||a form of final adverse disposition of a proposal for that session of the Legislature. A question which has been postponed indefinitely may not again be acted upon during a session.|
|Postpone to a Day Certain||to defer consideration to a definite later time or day.|
|Precedent||an authoritative example. When in a deliberative body a certain mode of procedure has been adopted in any case, it becomes a precedent for its government in every case thereafter of a similar character.|
|President||the presiding officer of the Senate elected by Senate members.|
|Previous Question (motion for)||a motion for the previous question halts debate, and moves the body to an immediate vote on the issue under consideration. The motion requires a majority of the members present for adoption and is not debatable.|
|Quorum||a majority of the membership elected to the House or Senate necessary to conduct business|
|Ranking Minority Member||the senior member of the minority party on any given subcommittee or committee.|
|Readings||constitutional presentation of a bill before either house. The reading of bills is required by the Constitution and by parliamentary law and practice to give public notice as to the proposed enactment. Every bill must be read three times in each house and only once per day. (The rule may be suspended to permit a bill to be read more than once on the same day.)|
|Recall||the act of permitting the voters to demand the removal of public officials (not permitted in all states).|
||intermission in daily session or committee meetings.|
|Reconsider||a motion to retake a vote which places the question in the same status it was prior to the vote on the question. A motion to reconsider may only be offered by a member who voted on the prevailing side and within a limited time. The motion to reconsider does not apply to motions to adjourn, to lay on the table, to take from the table or for the previous question.|
|Referendum||an act of referring important legislative enactments to the public for approval. (Not permitted in all states).|
|Regulation||a rule or order issued by the executive branch of government that has the force of law and usually is authorized by a law.|
|Report||a document giving a committee’s (or subcommittee’s) opinion and actions on a bill, or the act of a committee (or subcommittee) concluding its consideration of a bill and referring the bill to the full Senate or House to be placed on the legislative calendar for consideration.|
|Report Out||to return measure from committee to the Clerk with or without recommendation as to further action.|
|Resolution||a measure used by a single house to take action affection its own procedure or expressing an opinion, sympathy, commendation, etc. Resolutions are not signed by the Governor or the President and therefore do not have the force of law.|
|used to express the sense of both chambers.|
|a type of resolution that is treated the same as a bill in that they are presented to the Governor or President for approval. (Unless, at the federal level, a joint resolution proposes a constitutional amendment. In that case it does not require the approval of the president, but rather a two-thirds vote of Congress.) Joint resolutions are typically used for, among other things: small appropriations; continuation or extension of current appropriation levels; the creation of temporary commissions or ad hoc committees; the creation of temporary exceptions to existing laws; and to declare war.|
|Rider||an amendment that has been attached to an unrelated bill. Riders are often attached to appropriations bills.|
|Roll Call||recorded votes that specify how each member voted. Certain measures may require a roll call vote.|
|Rules||the set of regulations and parliamentary procedures adopted separately by the House and Senate. There may also be joint rules that apply to both houses.|
|Second Reading||is typically the stage of the process where a bill may be amended on the floor by the full body. (Bills are typically required to be read three times on three separate days prior to passage. However, such rules may be suspended by a vote of the body. The suspension of such rules usually requires a supermajority.)|
|Sine Die||final adjournment of a legislative body. Literally, adjournment “without day” being set.|
|Speaker||the presiding officer in the House elected by House members. At the Congressional level the speaker is second in line (after the vice president) to succeed the U.S. presidency.|
|Sponsor||a legislator or legislative committee introducing a measure.|
|Subcommittee||a division of a committee having a more specific area of jurisdiction.|
|Substitute||a substitute bill replaces the original measure and is designated as, for example, Committee Substitute for HB 203. It is often used when a bill is to be substantially amended.|
|Supermajority||or a “qualified majority” is a requirement for a proposal to gain a specified level of support which is greater than the threshold of one have used for “majority”. Usually either two thirds or four fifths of the members either present or elected.|
|Suspension of the Rules||a motion to temporarily suspend the normal rules of procedure to accommodate the handling of a particular measure. The suspension of rules typically requires a supermajority and a roll call vote.|
|Table||a procedural motion to kill an amendment, bill or motion immediately without a direct vote on its substance. (“I move that the bill be tabled.”)|
|Third Reading||the final reading of a bill upon which the body considers passage.|
|Title||a concise statement of the contents of a bill.|
|Title, Short||an abridged description of a bill. (Can be incomplete or misleading.)|
|Unanimous Consent||permission granted, without abjection, by either house to a member desiring to accomplish a measure without making a motion.|
|Unfinished Business||business which has been laid over from a previous day.|
|Veto||the action by which a governor or the President of the United States rejects a bill, returning it to the legislature or Congress respectively along with a message stating his/her objections. Vetoes may be overridden by legislatures with varying degrees of support. Congress requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.|
|Voice Vote||oral expression of the members when a question is submitted for their determination. Response given by “ayes” and “nays” and the presiding officer states his decision as to which side prevailed.|
|Whip||the assistant to the party leader in the House of Senate responsible for “rounding-up” votes on bills.|
|Whip Count||the anticipated count of votes for and against a measure as predicted by the Whip.|
|Yeas and Nays||a recorded vote of each member on an issue. The “Yeas and Nays” may be called for on a motion that would otherwise only require a simple voice vote if a member wants to see each members vote recorded.|
Appendix B: Additional Resources
Bolder Advocacy promotes active engagement in democratic processes and institutions by giving nonprofits and foundations the confidence to advocate effectively and by protecting their right to do so. Their goal is to demystify and decode advocacy by equipping organizations with knowledge and tools. They help organizations fully understand the rules and become assertive in their right to pursue their policy goals.
National Council of Nonprofits
The National Council of Nonprofits (Council of Nonprofits) is a resource and advocate for America’s charitable nonprofits. Through a network of State Associations and 25,000-plus members – the nation’s largest network of nonprofits – they serve as a central coordinator and mobilizer to help nonprofits achieve greater collective impact in local communities across the country. They identify emerging trends, share proven practices, and promote solutions that benefit charitable nonprofits and the communities they serve.
State Association of Nonprofits
To find your State Association of Nonprofits, follow the link below.
Sexual Assault Advocacy Guide: An Advocates Guide to Sexual Assault Policy
This guide was developed by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and outlines the legislative process, tools you can use to take action, and ways to engage the media in your policy goals.
 Bolder Advocacy. (No date). Public charities can lobby. Retrieved from http://bolderadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Public_Charities_Can_Lobby.pdf
 Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest. (2006). Make a Difference for Your Cause; Strategies for Nonprofit Engagement in Legislative Advocacy. Retrieved from https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/sites/default/files/documents/Make_a_Difference_RG.pdf page 21.
 Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest. (2006). Make a Difference for Your Cause; Strategies for Nonprofit Engagement in Legislative Advocacy. Retrieved from https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/sites/default/files/documents/Make_a_Difference_RG.pdf page 22.
[ii] What Every Lobbyist Should Know by Dr. Ronald Dear, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington School of Social Work Ref.: www.statepolicy.org/Newsletter%20Archives/Newsletter/Fall%202001.html