To: New York State Senate Finance Chair Krueger and Assembly Ways & Means Chair Weinstein
From: Chai Jindasurat, Vice President, Policy, Nonprofit New York
Re: Written Testimony Urging Government Operations and Ethics Relieve the Legislative Advocacy Burden on Nonprofits
Date: Wednesday, February 9, 2022
My name is Chai Jindasurat and I am providing testimony on behalf of Nonprofit New York, a membership-based organization representing 1,000 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in the greater New York City area. Nonprofit New York works to strengthen and unite the nonprofit sector. We encourage robust advocacy by nonprofits to engage in the lobbying and legislative advocacy process. As such, we urge the legislature to relieve the administrative and financial burden on small nonprofits created by the current “lobbying threshold” by raising the threshold to $10,000.
Nonprofits Have a Legal Right to Lobby Yet Fewer Than 3% Exercise This Right
All nonprofits have a constitutional and legal right to engage in lobbying.1 However, according to the National Council of Nonprofits, fewer than 3% of nonprofits engage in lobbying.2
Nonprofit Advocacy Brings More Voices Into the Policymaking Process
Nonprofits ofen represent under-represented communities, and deeply understand the challenges faced by the communities nonprofits serve. In a time when New Yorkers and nonprofits face economic uncertainty, record unemployment, racial injustice, a looming eviction crisis, affordability, and other challenges, policymakers need to hear more from nonprofits, not less.
New York Stateʼs Lobbying Regulations Are Costly and Burdensome
New Yorkʼs lobbying rules are complicated and burdensome, and nonprofits are the most tightly regulated of all sectors that lobby. An organization that plans to spend $5,000 in a year doing legislative advocacy must: register as a lobbyist and submit bi-monthly reports on their activities to the state (and city); file a minimum of 6 reports each year; and risk paying late filing fees ranging from $75 to $2,000 per filing.3 This causes many nonprofits to decide not to lobby at all - taking their voices, and the voices of their communities, out of the conversation. Reporting lobbying activity can be expensive - big lobbyists spend upwards of $500 a month on reporting alone. Small nonprofits simply canʼt afford that. A grassroots organization would have to register as a lobbyist and file reports for the next two years, even if all it does is take community members to Albany one time. For small budget organizations, this threshold is a penalty and burden.
Nominally Raising the Lobbying Threshold Will Not Reduce Transparency
Lobbying filers who spent less than $10,000 in 2020 collectively spent 1% of total spending,4 which means that 99% of all lobbyists will still have to report, even with this higher threshold. Raising the threshold will not compromise transparency for professional lobbyists, or even those nonprofits that do a lot of lobbying as a part of their work. In fact, raising the threshold will allow JCOPE to use more resources to monitor lobbyists who are spending the most money. Analysis of the most recent lobbying spending is included as an addendum to this testimony.
Raising the Threshold Has Broad Support Across the State
To date, over 110 organizations across New York have endorsed S6398 (Biaggi)/A6943 (González-Rojas), current pending legislation that would raise the threshold to $10,000, because it would alleviate the administrative burden for smaller, grassroots nonprofits to engage in the legislative advocacy process. Endorsing organizations range from arts and culture, social service, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) organizations, good government, and labor unions. A list of signatories is also included as an addendum to this testimony.
Raising the threshold will encourage more nonprofit advocacy and alleviate the administrative burden placed on grassroots organizationsʼ advocacy. Nonprofit New York and the over 110 signatories strongly urge the state legislature to support this common sense reform in the budget legislation.
1 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3)
3 19 NYCRR Part 943 - Comprehensive Lobbying Regulations.
4 NewYorkStateJointCommissiononPublicEthics.(2021).LobbyingDatasets.Retrievedfrom https://jcope.ny.gov/lobbying-datasets. Filers spending less than $10,000 spent a total of $1.86M in 2020, compared to $266.7 million in total spending. For major spending comparison, the top 100 spenders accounted for 3% of filers and 23% of total spending at $61M.