American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Before You Start: Understand the Law

First, understand that advocacy by it's broad definition is not always lobbying. However, the definition of lobbying is equally as broad and may be different from state to state. Lobbying (aka advocacy) by a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(6) organization IS LEGAL, but before embarking on any kind of advocacy initiative, you must take a moment to examine your state and local lobbying laws as well as the IRS regulations.

Lobbying activities are not clearly defined by the IRS, but generally, lobbying is considered to be contacting legislators and their staff members (either by phone, in writing, or in person) to talk about pending or proposed legislation and regulations. This broad definition of lobbying by the IRS also has been extended to newsletters and other types of membership communications when a particular publication contains information about current or pending legislation or regulations, and especially if members are encouraged to contact their elected officials.

There are distinct differences between what is permissible at a state or local level and what is permissible at the federal level. Remember, it's the branch of the government that determines which laws—state or federal—should be followed—NOT where the event is taking place. For example, hosting an event for a local U.S. Representative would be regulated by federal laws, whereas hosting the same event for a State Representative would be regulated by state law. (If an event includes both of them at the same time, the state law applies to the state representative and the federal law applies to the federal representative.)

The complexity of these laws and regulations should not prohibit or deter individual surgeons or chapters from becoming involved in legislative and political processes. However, chapter leaders should plan to obtain expert legal advice prior to engaging in certain legislative and political activities. In particular, chapter leaders should consult with the American College of Surgeons' Division of Membership and/or a tax attorney/advisor with questions about lobbying and political expenditures. Fellows and chapter leadership may also contact the College's Division of Advocacy and Health Policy.