I have a confession to make: sometimes I don’t water the garden. This is Oregon. Some years (like this one) in the early summer, I just wait for the rains to come.
Politics don’t work that way. We can’t be passive about the future. We can’t adopt a “wait and see” approach—or we are simply allowing other organizations, interests and influences to shape public policy and public spending. If you care about results: in politics you have to water the garden.
To take it a bit further: this is the growing season. The interim (when legislators are not in session in Salem) is the MOST productive time for grassroots advocacy. Legislators are back in district, with their eyes and ears tuned to constituents and local concerns.
Makes sense. You are in, right? Let’s do this: it’s time to advocate. We’ll start by clearing up some misconceptions straight away—and get to a list of actions you can take immediately to advocate for arts, culture, heritage and the humanities in your own backyard.
If you are advocating on behalf of a nonprofit organization:
Repeat after me: My non-profit organization has the right and the responsibility to participate in the legislative process (subject to legal regulations).
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, your organization cannot:
• Endorse or oppose candidates for public office.
• Collect or distribute funds for political campaigns.
• Use your facilities for political fundraising (you can rent facilities to candidates at the market rate).
• Engage in legislative activities past a “certain limit” (the IRS has a lobbying limit for organizations; call your tax accountant for more information).
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, your organization can (and should):
• Participate in and arrange meetings with legislators to learn their views on issues.
• Educate elected officials on issues of concern to the arts, culture, and heritage community.
• Invite legislators to meetings and events. You can also send them literature on issues.
• Join your legislators’ email newsletter lists.
• Add your legislators to YOUR email and mailing lists.
• When your organization receives a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Cultural Trust, County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Heritage Commission, Historic Preservation Office or Oregon Humanities write a thank you note to your legislators. Issue a local press release.
• Invite your legislators for a tour of your facility. Educate them about what you do and how your community benefits.
• Invite your legislators to openings and community celebrations and ask them to make a short speech about the importance of the arts to your community.
• Expand! Encourage your board members, staff and audience members to tell your impact story.
• Use your outlook calendar to schedule a “touch a month” from TODAY through the November elections. This allows you to get to know your legislator personally and it allows them get to know you—and your organization.
- Join or renew your membership in the CAC—join us!
If you are advocating as an individual (even if you lead a nonprofit, professionally) you can (and should):
• Give money, attend events and fully participate in any and all campaign and lobby activities personally.
• Personally offer your endorsement of candidates for public office.
• Give funds to political campaigns.
• Get to know your state senator and state representative! If you aren’t sure who represents you, find your legislator on our website.
- Join or renew your membership in the CAC—we need you in our Coalition!
Now you know what to do… now, what do you say?
Here’s a little background for discussions around preservation of the Cultural Trust tax credit:
· The tax credit that encourages individual gifts to the Oregon Cultural Trust will expire unless legislators VOTE to renew the credit. (The credit expires along with a dozen other tax credits in 2014—making the 2013 Legislative Session our last chance to renew it.)
· The tax credit costs the state General Fund $3.3 million a year (or in legislator terms, $6.7 million a biennium).
· Oregon’s General Fund/Lottery budget is about $15 Billion a biennium.
· The tax credit renewal will likely be referred to a policy committee, then the Joint Committee on Tax Credits. (If you don’t know which committees the legislator you are meeting with serves on, be sure to check here)
If you have a few minutes in a social setting with a legislator, keep it simple:
“Oregon’s Cultural Trust tax credit is up for renewal in the next legislative session. I hope you will support renewal of this important program. We need to protect Oregon’s Cultural Trust.”
For opportunities that allow for more discussion, we suggest that you develop an “impact story” that details the impact of an Oregon Cultural Trust grant on your organization and community. The impact stories should include four elements:
- Quantified Impact (data)
- Local Connection
As you develop your impact stories– we would love to hear them! As you meet with legislators—tell us who you have met with!
That’s it. Now you know how advocacy works. You know what you can and cannot do and you know where to go for more information if you have any questions.
Just remember, the tax credit that fuels gifts to the cultural trust will expire if we do nothing. Legislators don’t have to actively oppose the tax credit, they just have to do nothing and the tax credit disappears. They don’t have to oppose continuation of Oregon’s Cultural Trust, they just have to allow other issues to take priority and our little budget item slips between the cracks—and the Trust’s impact is diminished.
Legislators have a lot competing for their time and attention in Salem—massive reforms to education and health care must be implemented, the budget has to be balanced. These issues are job #1. So, where do we fit? How do we get just enough time and space to ensure the tax credit is renewed and the Oregon Cultural Trust can continue to grow?
We have today. We have this month, and a few more after that, before legislators are back in Salem. Take the time to act. Add the advocacy action items listed above into your schedule and get it done.
It’s time to water the garden folks.
Christine Drazan, Executive Director