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Federal Laws Regarding Lobbying and Advocacy

posted on Thu, Feb 2 2017 9:17 am by The Network

A county public health officer recently contacted the Network asking for information on federal lobbying restrictions and on the distinction between lobbying activities that may be restricted and other advocacy activities that are not.

Federal law generally prohibits recipients of federal funds from using federal funds to “lobby federal, state, or local officials or their staff to receive additional funding or influence legislation.” However, it can be challenging to determine whether a given activity constitutes impermissible lobbying because lobbying restrictions and definitions come from a variety of federal laws as well as from other sources, such as grant or contract award notices.

The Network provided the requestor with various resources to help the requestor understand federal laws regarding lobbying.

Many of these materials offer guidance on lobbying restrictions contained in Section 503 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012. Note that there do not appear to be any differences between Section 503 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, Division F (see page 326 of the PDF), and the corresponding Section 503 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, Division H (see page 408 of the PDF). These sections apply to federal funds administered by the Secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Though not specifically relevant to the requestor’s question about lobbying restrictions, the Network also mentioned that the federal Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. § 1501 et seq., prohibits a state or local officer or employee from engaging in specified partisan political activities. 

Finally, remember that in addition to federal restrictions, state and local government employees must also consider applicable state or local lobbying laws and must carefully review terms and conditions associated with all relevant grants or contracts. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides helpful information on state lobbying laws, including state definitions of lobbying and lobbyists; registration and reporting requirements for lobbyists; and restrictions on use of public funds for lobbying.