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Nonprofits Entering Traditional Lobbying Arena

January 6, 2012
Nonprofit groups hoping for legislative results are no longer just educating lawmakers, our colleague Fawn Johnson writes in this week's National Journal magazine. Johnson outlines a few of the legislative successes nonprofits groups saw this year, saying they "illustrate the fruits of some nonprofits' transition to overt congressional lobbying."

Johnson reports (for subscribers):

Nonprofit groups' reluctance to dabble in politics can often be traced to the foundations that support them. Foundations like to fund research, which nonprofits are very good at and which can add to an organization's prestige, but they often are skittish about lobbying and making campaign contributions--two activities that can create enemies.

However, the 2011 budget-slashing environment, with Republicans proposing to eliminate everything from community-service to education grants, prompted the nonprofit community to employ new lobbying tactics to save critical line items. They had to adapt because some of their reliable bulwarks had disappeared. Gone were their powerful Washington champions, such as the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and former President Clinton, who had functioned as immovable roadblocks to any cuts. Gone were the days when earmarks were a standard practice, which made it easier to quietly reel in a million dollars here or there for a school project or homeless shelter.

Last year was a crisis moment for groups that consistently flout tea party dogma by extolling the virtues of government safety nets. In the end, the nonprofit community rallied enough support to claim victory on a number of battlefronts. (The "war" is far from won, executives caution.) They also learned some lessons that will form the backbone of future lobbying.

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