How To Reach C&ENACS Membership Number


November 25, 2002
Volume 80, Number 47
CENEAR 80 47 p. 27
ISSN 0009-2347




From time to time, ACS leaders and government affairs staff are asked about the nature and scope of the society's policy advocacy activities. Earlier this year, in fact, I was asked whether ACS was registered to lobby before Congress and what effect our advocacy activities have on our tax-exempt status and our educational mission. As chair of the Board Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations, I believe it is appropriate to provide some background information on these issues.

Up front, a fundamental distinction must be made between so-called political activities such as participating in an election and policy advocacy activities like appearing before a congressional committee to provide expert testimony. Because ACS is a nonprofit organization that is tax exempt under Internal Revenue Service Code Section 501(c)(3), certain political activities are absolutely prohibited to us. For example, ACS cannot form a political action committee, endorse or donate funds to candidates for elective office, or become involved in any way in electoral campaigns. We must be careful not to even take positions that could be seen to favor one candidate over another in an election.

What we can do--and what the IRS actually encourages groups like ACS to do--is to provide expertise, information, and policy positions to government officials to advance our mission. This is the goal of the society's current advocacy programs, whether it means providing testimony, visiting policymakers to communicate ACS positions, sending Legislative Action Network alerts to members, or other allowed activities.

It is worth noting that the IRS does set limits on issues-based advocacy by groups like ACS. Our advocacy activities, whether measured against either "fixed dollar" or "percentage of expenditures" limits, are in compliance with the limits set by the IRS. And just as other nonprofits are required to do, ACS must report on its advocacy activities to the IRS every year.

ACS is also registered with the U.S. Congress under the requirements of a relatively new law that was enacted in 1995. Because previous lobby laws were fraught with loopholes, the Lobby Disclosure Act of 1995 cast an extremely wide net. It requires registration by any organization that employs even one staff member who spends 20% of his or her time on so-called lobbying activities, which are defined very broadly to include communications with policymakers on specific issues, as well as research and other background work that supports those communications. So while our advocacy activities have remained essentially the same over the years, in addition to reporting to the IRS, ACS has been disclosing to Congress for the past seven years the issues on which we advocate and the rough amount of money that has been spent in the process.

The Board Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations is charged with approving ACS policy statements and overseeing the society's government affairs activities. Members can be assured that ACS position statements and advocacy activities are nonpartisan and subject to oversight by the board of directors. ACS updates members on its government affairs activities regularly through various methods, including reports to the board of directors and council, the Capitol Connection newsletter, local section newsletters, the ACS website, and the society's annual report.

I believe our current government relations efforts are appropriate and effective. I am proud to share my experience, technical knowledge, and ACS's policy recommendations with my legislators every chance I get. We know from experience that elected officials at all levels need and welcome assistance from ACS and other scientific groups on science policy issues. I'm also proud of the work of the Office of Legislative & Government Affairs and, just as important, of the thousands of ACS members nationwide who participate in these activities. Not only do the extent and nature of our advocacy activities fit within IRS guidelines, they are entirely consistent with the society's founding mission, our congressional charter, and our strategic plan.

If you have questions on ACS government affairs activities or would like to get involved in these activities, including the Legislative Action Network, please call the ACS Office of Legislative & Government Affairs at (800) 227-5558 or visit


From time to time, ACS committee chairs and national officers write comments for C&EN. ACS members who wish to read more comments can find them on the Web on C&EN Online at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ACS Committee.


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