Nonprofits and North Carolina’s new lobbying law

By Rob Schofield

Though North Carolina’s new lobbying and ethics law is into its third month of operation, many nonprofit leaders remain unaware of how the changes it contains could affect their interaction with state government officials.

If you fall into this category, or even if you never really understood the old law, don’t despair or assume that you need to avoid public-policy advocacy.

The basic rules are reasonably straightforward and most of the information you’ll need is easy to access.

The best place to go for basic information is the state Department of the Secretary of State. The department’s lobbying division website includes links to the new law, the temporary rules that were adopted after the new law was passed, all the forms you’ll need to register and report your activities and, perhaps most importantly, answers to 22 of the most common frequently asked questions, or FAQ’s.

Another potentially helpful resource is the state Ethics Commission.

Here are some of the key topics that all nonprofits ought to keep in mind and learn more about as they approach the subject (if you are unsure about something, contact the appropriate state regulator and/or your attorney):

Can I lobby? Should I lobby?

State and federal law both encourage 501(c)3 nonprofits to lobby, and it can be an incredibly effective way for a nonprofit to make a real difference. Note, though, that the rules for what constitutes lobbying under state law are broader and will take in more activity. For more information on federal rules visit the website of the Alliance for Justice.

Should I register as a lobbyist?

North Carolina does not require all who lobby state officials to register, but it’s important to know where the lines are drawn. There is little downside to registering except for the annual fee and the reporting requirements.

What are the fees? The basic state fee is $100 a year. It must be paid by lobbyists and the groups they represent, known as “principals”. Fees can be reduced or waived for some small nonprofits.

What’s the deal with gifts? Gifts of any kind (and campaign contributions) from lobbyists and principals to state-level public officials are generally banned. There are lots of complicated exceptions.

What and when do I report? Lobbyists and principals must file regular reports with the state Secretary of State’s office. Reports are due quarterly, must be notarized, and must include the compensation paid by the principal to the lobbyist.

Lobbyists and principals must file additional reports when they make certain types of expenditures during any month in which the General Assembly is in session.

For details, visit the website links above. You can also contact the Secretary of State’s office at 919.807.2000 and the state Ethics Commission at 919.807.4620.

Rob Schofield is the director of research and policy development at NC Policy Watch, a program of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal.

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