Guidance for Navigating the Involvement of Political Candidates and Elected or Appointed Officials in your State Action Coalition
To protect Action Coalitions from risks related to lobbying and ethics law, campaign finance rules, and nonprofit status, it’s important to proceed carefully when involving political candidates, legislators or the heads of executive-branch agencies in Action Coalition leadership roles.
If a legislator or the head of an executive-branch agency wants to participate in your Action Coalition, it’s safe to include them on an advisory council or other community-engagement body that does not exercise control over the Action Coalition. Those individuals should not speak on behalf of the Action Coalition during election seasons, or in a context where their government role and their Action Coalition affiliation might blur. Political candidates should not be included on an Action Coalition advisory board or other position unless they have an official government role that would independently merit their inclusion on an Action Coalition advisory board.
When a legislator or executive-agency head serves as an Action Coalition lead, as spokesperson, or on an Action Coalition governing board, it raises the risk that state ethics officers could find the arrangement to violate state lobbying laws. And, when such officials are running for office, the Action Coalition can’t promote their positions or views, because that could mean the Action Coalition is boosting a candidate in an election – which could violate state campaign finance laws, or could jeopardize the Action Coalition’s tax exemption as a nonprofit. These safeguards also protect government officials from legal liability.
Lastly, sometimes nurses or others active in an Action Coalition decide to run for office. That is terrific, and we want to encourage it. However, during the time that person is a candidate, they need to step down from their leadership role in the Action Coalition, to ensure it does not appear the Action Coalition is using its resources to support their candidacy. Of course, Action Coalition members and leaders – on their own time, in their personal capacity, and not using their Action Coalition title or Action Coalition resources – may choose to volunteer to help that person’s campaign.
Please let us know any questions you may have, and we can discuss how to apply these guidelines to your Action Coalition’s particular situation.
Our Action Coalition is not a 501c3, does this guidance still apply?
Even non-501(c)(3)s should follow these guidelines. First, many of the Action Coalitions are fiscally sponsored by a 501(c)(3), or they’re using 501(c)(3) grant funds from you. But even if the Action Coalition is structured as a 501(c)(4) or other type of entity, these rules should apply. For example, if an Action Coalition leader is a candidate, there are lots of scenarios where the Action Coalition’s public statements could constitute an in-kind contribution to the candidate. Depending on the state’s law, that contribution may be illegal, or at a minimum would subject the organization to state campaign-finance disclosure requirements. Similarly, the state lobbying and ethics rules apply even if the government official isn’t a candidate.