The State of the Union and You

Thinking about watching tonight’s State of the Union and wondering whether and how your organization can respond? If the President mentions an issue core to your mission, can you comment? The answer is YES: 501(c)(3) organizations may speak out and hold government officials accountable for their actions. This means that when the President issues the State of the Union (definitely a part of his official duties)—or when Democrats issue the rebuttals–we are allowed to respond so long as our comments don’t rise to the level of campaign intervention. As c3s, we cannot express a desire to see an elected official defeated—or re-elected—in the next election.

So how can your organization safely speak out against a policy that negatively impacts the communities you serve? And how can you support the legislative or executive acts that benefit your constituents? Our factsheet on “Praising and Criticizing Incumbents” examines the issues faced by 501(c)(3)s when commenting on actions taken by “candidates” who are also acting government officials. It provides a number of tips that, if followed, can minimize any potential risk to your organization so that you can BOLDLY speak out about the issues you work day-in and day-out to address.

For example:

  • Focus on official actions only, not on an individual lawmaker’s personal characteristics, fitness, or qualifications for office;
  • Avoid mentioning an individual’s candidacy, their potential re-election, or how their actions will affect voters (instead, describe how their actions will affect Americans);
  • Time your communications to coincide with policy decisions instead of resurrecting past executive or legislative actions in an attempt to call into question or bolster a candidate’s suitability for office; and
  • Comment only on the issues that your organization has a track-record of working on, rather than commenting on issues that, while important, are not germane to your nonprofit’s mission.

For more detailed information on this issue, click here. You may also reach out to us with your advocacy related questions by submitting a request for technical assistance or calling our advocacy hotline (866-675-6229).

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