7 Things Non-Profits Can/Should Definitely Do….
- Register people to vote as long as there is no targeting of districts based on partisan demographics. Nor can you target swing or battleground districts ( ie you cannot target a “Democratic” area but you can target underrepresented communities, such as African Americans, Latinos, etc).
- Run a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) drive. The same targeting rules apply, see above.
- Host a candidate forum. Make sure all candidates are invited, rules are fair, and the audience is not stacked.
- Candidate questioning. Organizations can encourage their members to ask all the candidates in a race the same (not loaded) question about a particular issue of concern to them. Groups can also continue to criticize public officials who they feel are detrimental to their issues — even when that official is a candidate — if this is an activity the organization also does in the same manner and scope in a non-election year.
- Public education via earned media coverage of your issue. Use public education tools such as nonpartisan reports, opinion editorials, and letters to the editor to get the word out about your issue.
- Direct public education about your issue by way of scorecards, Internet communications, door knocking, and so forth. All of these must be nonpartisan.
- Ballot initiatives are also a tool to make proactive public policy on your issue.
4 Things Non-Profits Should Be Careful Before Doing…
- Distribute, post on Web site, and send out on listservs voter education guides and legislative voting records that address a wide range of issues. Scorecards are not permissible if they indicate that a candidate’s position is either “good” or “bad.”
- Educate the public on issues as long as the information does not implicitly suggest that people should vote for a particular candidate.
- Educate the public on candidates as long as information is presented on all candidates and on a wide range of issues and without trying to cast candidates in a favorable or unfavorable light. Web sites of 501(c)(3)s may link to the Web sites of all candidates in a race for educational purposes following the above guidelines.
- Seek to influence party platforms, as long as you do it for all major parties equally.
5 Things Non-Profits Must Never Do…
- Endorse candidates.
- Contribute funds to candidates.
- Use organization resources or staff time for candidate election activities (ballot measures are OK, subject to lobbying limits).
- Provide mailing lists to candidates for free or below market rate.
- Solicit candidate pledges: Nonprofit organizations cannot ask a candidate to pledge to do or not to do something in their campaign or in their eventual election. This provides implicit endorsement and is illegal.
For more specific information, Read an excerpt from the book Loud and Clear in an Election Year (and get the book) at Reach and Teach.