By Harry Budisidharta | The Denver Firm
Welcome to the first Asian Avenue magazine monthly legal column! Annie Guo, President of Asian Avenue, and I discussed creating this legal column because many people in our communities are still woefully clueless of the legal system. I hope that my column will help educate our communities about their rights and how to navigate the legal system.
For this month, I will write about lobbying and why all of us need to be active in our government. Next month, I will write about various bills that are pending before the Colorado State Legislature.
What is lobbying?
To put it simply, lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decision made by government officials. Most people have a negative opinion of lobbying because they think that lobbyists work only for wealthy people and big corporations. In reality, lobbying is done by many different types of organizations, and some of the organizations employ lobbyists to make sure that the government does not discriminate against minority groups.
Who can lobby?
Lobbyists come from all walks of life because there is no formal training or licensing requirement to become a lobbyist. Most professional lobbyists began their careers working as an aide in a congressional office or in a law firm. However, anyone can become a lobbyist because the First Amendment gives you the right to petition government officials.
Can non-profit organizations lobby elected officials?
The answer is yes. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization can engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity can cause the organization to lose its tax-exempt status. The IRS has two tests for determining whether a non-profit organization is engaging in too much lobbying.
The first test is a subjective “substantiality test” based on the facts and circumstances of each case. The second test is the “expenditure test,” which is based on the amount of money spent for lobbying. Both of these tests are too complicated to explain in this column, so I advise you to consult with a lawyer if you have any questions about these two tests.
Please keep in mind that non-profit organizations are expressly prohibited from participating in any political campaign for any candidate for public office. However, they can conduct educational meetings, distribute educational materials, or hold educational town hall forum without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.
Why should we lobby our government officials?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing racial group in America. Our population grew by 45.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, which is four times faster than the growth rate for U.S. population. However, despite our growth rate, our communities tend to have the lowest voter turnout among any racial and ethnic group. We also have very few AAPI elected officials at the federal and state level.
It is important for all of us to participate in our government especially if we want our voices to be heard. I hope that this short article encouraged you to be more active in your government.
About Harry Budisidharta
Harry received his law degree from the University of Colorado Law School. He has his own law firm and is the current president of the Mile High chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization in the United States.
In 2012, Harry was awarded the Outstanding Lawyer of the Year Award by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado and the Arapahoe County Bar Association. He also received the 2012 Mayor’s Diversity Award for his advocacy work on behalf of the refugee community. In 2014, he was selected to be on the Colorado Rising Stars list by the Colorado Super Lawyers magazine.
For questions or comments, contact Harry at [email protected].