Lobbying is defined by federal tax law as any attempt to influence specific legislation. Lobbying can be done by 1) contacting or urging the public to contact policy makers for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation or (2) by advocating the adoption or rejection of legislation. Regulations divide lobbying into two types, direct and grassroots. Specific rules apply to each type.

Policy Makers refers to anyone who has direct influence over the outcome of a piece of legislation and could include:

  • Legislators
  • Legislative aides
  • Governor
  • Lt. Governor
  • President
  • Others

In the case of ballot initiatives or referenda, voters are considered policy makers, because they decide the outcome of legislation at the voting booth. Any communications made to members of the general public encouraging them to vote a certain way on ballot measures is direct lobbying.

Direct lobbying is any attempt to influence legislation through communication with any member or employee of a legislative body, or with any other government official who may participate in the formulation of legislation. Encouraging your members to express your organization’s position to these individuals is also direct lobbying.

There is a three part “test” to determine if a specific activity constitutes direct lobbying:

1.      The principal purpose is to influence legislation,

2.      There is reference to a specific piece of legislation (even if the legislation is not currently under consideration), and

3.      A point of view is expressed. Usually, some kind of action is advocated.

 

Grassroots lobbying is a communication with the public that, like direct lobbying, also is intended to influence legislation, makes reference to specific legislation reflects a point of view and includes a "call to action." The difference is that a grassroots lobbying communication encourages members of the general public to contact government officials about legislation. Generally, if a communication does not have a viewpoint or a call to action but provides information on a law to the public, it should not be considered lobbying. Again, if the communication is directed at voters and intended to encourage them to vote a certain way on a ballot measure, it is direct lobbying. There is an exception for paid mass media advertisements on "highly publicized legislation,” which are presumed to be grassroots lobbying if they run within two weeks of a vote on legislation, even if the ad does not encourage members of the public to contact government officials.

 

What is NOT lobbying?

If your organization makes the 501(h) election, you should be aware that many activities do not count as lobbying, including:

  1. Distributing materials and other communications of direct interest to members of your organization that express a point of view on legislation but do not urge action by the members.
  2. Making available the results of analysis or research on a legislative issue, as long as the facts are presented fully and fairly.
  3. Responding to written requests from a legislative body (not an individual legislator)
  4. "Self-defense" lobbyig on matters that affect the organizations's existence powers and duties, tax-exempt  sstatus, or deductibility of contributions.
  5. Discussing broad social issues, without mentioning specific legislation

The Colorado Secretary of State’s electionswebpage provides the following information about who needs to register as a lobbyist:

While the activity under the gold dome seems intimidating to newcomers, lawmakers in Colorado are fairly accessible, especially when compared to members of Congress.

With that in mind, here is a basic guide to making your voice heard and possibly shaping the direction of new laws.

KNOW THE PROCESS

This can be the difference between getting involved in the debate and complaining after it's too late. LINK:Find bills introduced in 2014

A bill needs to go through a lot of steps in order to become a law. It must pass a full vote of each chamber, but your best chance to influence it is before this step in committee.

LINK:>How a bill becomes law in Colorado

Each bill is assigned to a committee when it is introduced and again if it enters the second house of the legislature.

There is a set of deadlines to be aware of. With some exceptions, most bills will be introduced by the end of January.

Every bill gets at least one public committee hearing in Colorado, which includes an opportunity for public comment.  This is your one certain chance to make sure you can tell lawmakers what you think of a bill.

LINK:Committees in the Colorado legislature

Using the above link, you can find each committee's web website and contact information for staff who can help you get a better sense of what's happening with your issue.

If you have a deep personal connection with the issue at hand, it's helpful to find lawmakers who are sponsors or opponents of a bill so that they can help to call attention to your testimony.

"Early is better than later," says Senate President Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora,) who advises you to reach out to lawmakers ahead of testifying at hearings.

 

TALK TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Not everybody can make it to scheduled committee hearings, but that doesn't mean you should stay quiet.

 

A good place to start is to reach out to your Representative and Senator in the state legislature because they are most accountable to you.

LINK: Find your state lawmakers using your address on this map

LINK: Look up contact info for all state lawmakers here

 

Your local legislators may be able to help you find another lawmaker working on an issue you care about. You should also reach out to bill sponsors and members of committees that will work on a bill you care about.

 

CRAFT YOUR ARGUMENT

It's easy to jam out a quick nastygram and send it to a lawmaker's inbox, but that's not going to help your cause.

 

"When I get those really negative and vitriolic emails, we tend to just shut that off and ignore it," said Rep. Mark Waller, (R-Colorado Springs.) "Put forth a reasonable argument even if you disagree with me and then be willing to listen to my answer."

 

Assuming you've got that covered, your message is still going to need to compete with a lot of chatter. State lawmakers have to deal with hundreds of bills and feedback from all sides in a short amount of time. It's like drinking from a fire hose.

 

Whether it's an email, phone call, tweet, or hearing testimony, keep the following things in mind if you want to cut through the noise:

·         BE CONCISE - your time will be limited at a hearing, but in all other forms make your argument short, sweet, and easy to understand

·         BE POWERFUL - explain how the issue makes an impact in your life

·         LOOK FOR COMPROMISE - it's much easier to convince a lawmaker to adjust their idea for you than it is to get them to scrap it altogether

 

GO PUBLIC

Still not getting anywhere? Almost every lawmaker is on twitter, where you can publicly engage them. Again-don't "troll. If you think your issue is not getting the attention it deserves, contact the media. Telling your story might help bring attention to the issue.

VOTE You may not get to vote on specific bills, but you can hold lawmakers accountable. Let them know if they have earned or lost your vote and why. During campaign season, seek out opportunities to ask candidates questions. Candidates are generally pretty easy to find and talk to.

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