Rules of the Game: Politically Motivated Attacks - Alliance for Justice

Rules of the Game: Politically Motivated Attacks


Monika Graham, Susan Finkel-Sourlis, Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort


Election Related Activities

Political attacks on nonprofit organizations can come in many forms, including legal challenges or public smear campaigns. Given the current political climate, organizations that engage in policy reform and election season advocacy are coming under increased scrutiny. As a result, it is crucial to be proactive and develop a comprehensive strategy to safeguard your organization’s reputation and operations. On this episode, we will discuss how your organization can ready itself in advance of potential politically motivated attacks.

Our Attorneys for this Episode

Threats Directed at Nonprofit Organizations: 

  1. Attempting to Criminalize Social Services
    • Texas Attorney General launched investigation of an organization that provides services to the immigrant community
    • 3 Activists in Georgia were arrested after their organization’s charitable bail fund posted bond for individuals who protested against Atlanta’s “Cop City.”
  2. Congress Conducting Increased Investigations of Nonprofit Organizations
    • Ways and Means Committee issued Request for Information (RFI) asking responders to identify groups they believe are using voter registration and education to sway the outcome of candidate elections
    • In May 2024, House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer and Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx launched an investigation into the funding sources of about 20 organizations that have funded recent anti-Israel demonstrations across U.S. college campuses
  3. Using Repressive Tactics to Discourage Public Participation
    • 3 organizers arrested and charged with a misdemeanor obstruction of highway or other passageway after the peacefully marched in protest of a confederate monument
    • 79 people arrested and charged with criminal trespass for participating in a protest at the University of Texas
    • Incorrect or purposely distributing misinformation around elections.
  4. Other threats include organizations being covertly contacted by those who want to catch them “red-handed” in an illegal act, doxxing, and more!

Tips for Preparation: 

  1. Adopt Clear Organizational Policies:
    • Organizations should adopt policies regarding nonprofit activities, communications, and responses to political issues.
    • Ensure that all staff and board members are trained and aware of these policies, and maintain copies of signed policies for your records.
      • It is a best practice to include these policies in your employee handbook and to require signature during employee onboarding.
      • If you don’t already have policies in place, consider their adoption.
        • Election season policy to establish expectations for staff when acting on behalf of the organization vs. in their individual capacity
        • Social Media Policy, including information on how to maintain boundaries between work-related and personal use of social media
  2. Prepare Staff and Volunteers:
    • Review and understand the rules for engaging in advocacy, including lobbying and election season advocacy. This should include a review of local, state, and federal laws that may apply to your organization’s activities.
      • Schedule training for your team so that everyone is on the same page and understands how to properly track, report, and engage in important public policy and election-related activities.
      • If training is not an option, encourage your staff to review nonprofit advocacy rules on their own time (see resource suggestions below).
    • Train staff on how to deal with questions.
    • Don’t let anyone pressure you to say something you don’t want to state.
    • Let your staff know that it is always better to report any suspicious activity, and identify who staff should notify if they suspect that something is awry.
    • Have a legal response plan in place that designates legal counsel to address potential challenges swiftly and an organizational leader, who is authorized to respond to accusations made against your nonprofit.
    • Consider requiring staff to participate in IT trainings designed to increase their awareness of potential online threats.
  3. Keep Good Records & Remember to Report: 
    • Keep accurate and complete records, and ensure your filings are in order.
      • Nonprofits should carefully track their lobbying, ballot measure advocacy, and other projects to comply with lobbying limits and ensure accurate reporting to the IRS and relevant state and local authorities.
      • Remember to timely and accurately file any required lobbying disclosure reports, campaign finance (e.g. ballot measure) reports, and your organization’s annual exempt organization return (990).
    • Check out our “Keeping Track” resource to make sure staff are trained to properly track their time.
  4. If You Are Attacked, Stay Calm.
    • Reassure board members, staff, volunteers, and supporters that you are diligently gathering the facts.
    • Share information with your coalition partners and allies so they are not caught off-guard and can prepare for questions that may arise.
    • Go back to your response plan, and put it into action.