Wikilegal/Tax Definition of "Lobbying" for grantees
|Note: This page shares the Wikimedia Foundation’s preliminary perspective on a legal issue. This page is not final – if you have additional information, or want to provide a different perspective, please feel free to expand or add to it.
Please remember – this is not legal advice!
For more information on this disclaimer, see here.
The United States Internal Revenue Service mandates that any charitable organization refrain from engaging in lobbying as a “substantial part of its activities” in order to maintain its tax-exempt status.
The Wikimedia Foundation is a charity operating under US law, and therefore requires its affiliates and grantees to disclose any activities that may qualify as lobbying. Note that taxation laws on lobbying vary by country. In addition to reporting potential lobbying activities to us, you are responsible for following any lobbying rules that may apply in your own country, which may be different than the US.
- Lobbying is an attempt to influence legislation. Lobbying activities include contacting legislators, or urging the public to contact legislators, for the purposes of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation. Activities that generally educate the public on policy issues do not necessarily qualify as lobbying.
- Example: Supporting a law that protects the public domain may be considered lobbying.
- Example: Publishing a general report that analyzes the value of the public domain is not considered lobbying.
- Legislation is any action by a legislative body or by the public that determines the law. It may not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.
- Contact includes any oral, written, or electronic communication.
Types of communications to report edit
If you receive any funding from WMF under a grant agreement that allows lobbying activity, please separately track and report your activities and expenses related to the following types of communications about legislation:
- Direct Lobbying applies to direct contact with government officials. Direct lobbying is communication directed at a legislator (or their staff member) that advocates a specific view on legislation and seeks to influence legislation.
- Example: It is direct lobbying to meet with a city council member’s secretary to propose new privacy laws.
- Grassroots Lobbying applies to contact with the general public. Grassroots lobbying is communication to the public that advocates a specific view on legislation and includes a call to the public to take direct action. Even if the public is not called to action, paying to advertise a view on legislation within two weeks of a vote may be considered grassroots lobbying.
- Example: It is grassroots lobbying to mail chapter members asking them to take a stand by writing their representatives to vote against a pending law that extends copyright protections.
Possible lobbying exceptions edit
This section describes some activities around legislation that may not qualify is lobbying. However, we still require you to separately track and report these activities and related expenses so that we can verify that the activity in question is not lobbying and also maintain an internal record:
- Nonpartisan study or research that is widely distributed Example: Leading an educational workshop, open to the public, that presents the benefits of open access policies, generally, but does not specifically oppose or promote open access legislation.
- Technical advice or assistance requested by a government body Example: Upon a legislative subcommittee’s request, producing a written report that describes the impact of copyright reform on your work.
- Self-defense of the organization’s legal status Example: Advocating before a legislative body against proposed legislation that would prevent your organization from qualifying as a nonprofit.
- Discussion of broad social issues that are also the subject of specific legislation Example: Publishing an article that advocates for freedom of speech on the Internet broadly without pointing to pending censorship laws.
If you are unsure about any aspect of what qualifies as lobbying, or what the reporting requirements for a particular activity around legislation might be, please contact your grants officer, who will work with WMF Legal to resolve your query.