The Difference Between Advocacy and Lobbying

Important – we are not attorneys and this is not a legal opinion

It can be difficult to speak truth to power. Circumstances, however, have made doing so increasingly necessary.
― Aberjhani

Advocacy is a general term that includes lobbying and a great deal more. Lobbying has a very specific meaning in federal and Connecticut state law. All lobbying is advocacy but not all advocacy is lobbying.

Advocacy is any activity meant to change government policy. Educating legislators and citizens about your issue, attending meetings, testifying at a public hearing, coalition building, and writing a letter to the editor are all advocacy.

Lobbying is a narrowly defined subset of advocacy. Connecticut law defines lobbying as “communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any official or his staff in the legislative or executive branch of government or in a quasi-public agency, for the purpose of influencing any legislative or administrative action”. The law also includes a list of exceptions to that definition. (General Statutes § 1-91 (2013)) The federal definition of lobbying is even more narrow. Both the IRS and Connecticut state law allow for lobbying by nonprofits, with some limits.

If you are lobbying on a bill, for instance giving testimony or writing a policymaker, it is very unlikely that a volunteer citizen would need to register as a lobbyist. For example, under Connecticut state law you must register as a lobbyist if you spend or receive $3,000 or more in any calendar year on lobbying activities as defined under the law.

If you have any questions, the Office of State Ethics is extremely helpful. If you have any worries at all, make a call. Their number is 860-263-2400. Click here for more contact information.

Other resources

Public Health Advocacy: The Legal Basics, APHA

Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest

IRS on lobbying

CT Office of State Ethics

CT Philanthropy on lobbying

National Council of Nonprofits – difference between advocacy and lobbying

How to Advocate as a Nonprofit for Older Americans, National Council on Aging

Speak Up: Tips on Advocacy for Publicly Funded Nonprofits, Center for an Urban Future