The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Bright Future for the Delta Grassroots Caucus--and some Guidelines on "Lobbying"

Posted on November 20, 2008 at 12:21 PM

We would like to thank all of the more than 1,500 grassroots leaders across the Mississippi Delta region and in Washington, DC who have supported our efforts to bring about a brighter future for our region from southern Illinois to New Orleans, Louisiana and east to the Alabama Black Belt. We are currently working on our upcoming annual conference in Arkansas on Feb. 5-6, 2009, with the opening session set for Thursday evening, Feb. 5, 2009 at the Clinton School of Public Service from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the main session on Friday, Feb. 6, 2009 from 9 a.m. to about 3:45 p.m. at the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. We look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the state governments and local leaders as well as President-Elect Barack Obama’s administration for the good of the region.

We are currently operating the Delta Grassroots Caucus in the same way as a 501c3 organization, with a combination of informational/communications activities, dialogue about economic and other issues in the region, dissemination of best practices, discussion of legislative and other issues, and with explicit lobbying activities at 20% of our overall activities or less. At times in the past we have been in situations that required a more vocal and at times controversial approach to advocating for our region’s development, but as events have currently evolved we plan to focus even more heavily on consensus building and reaching out to as many new partners as possible.

Along with the obvious ongoing problems, there are many promising, positive activities in our region. Some positive developments in our recent history include the passage last year of a “farm bill” that included a strong nutrition section that will be helpful in our region, which has unusually high levels of food insecurity; an expansion of renewable energy–and we look forward to additional growth in that key area to reduce high gas prices and cut our dependence on foreign oil, while creating jobs in our region; conservation and a safety net for farmers; a provision to help African American farmers in their cases involving discrimination against them by USDA, and Rural Development programs in housing, small business, infrastructure, and information technology. All of these areas will need further growth.

When this organization was created in its current form in 2003-2004, the Delta Regional Authority was on very shaky ground, with the Bush administration having cut its funding from the original $30 million down to $5 million and requesting a further cut to a tiny $2 million. Since that time, funding at DRA has risen from $5 million in one source of funding to approximately $23 million in three sources of funding channeled to the region in energy and water, USDA Rural Development, and transportation appropriations. We have excellent prospects for continuing this expanded funding for the DRA in coming years.

We have had some progress on transportation, expanded educational opportunity–especially at the state level with such reforms as Gov. Mike Beebe’s expanded education funding in Arkansas–health care for underserved rural areas, tourism, the New Markets Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other initiatives for assisting lower to middle income working families. We still have a long way to go on many of these issues.

On completing Interstate 69 and the Delta Development Highway System, the highway bill in 2009 will present a historic opportunity to make progress for our region’s transportation system.

We will continue to work on the full range of issues for the region’s development. We also want to expand our efforts to disseminate information about the many constructive grassroots activities underway throughout the region. Please send us information about best practices or models for beneficial activities going on in your local area and we will disseminate in our email network, on the website at and in other venues.

People often ask how “lobbying” and “lobbyists” are defined. In the way those terms are often popularly perceived as wealthy business firms promoting the narrow special interests of oil companies, pharmaceutical giants, Wall Street firms and other massive private sector entities, the Delta Grassroots Caucus has never remotely engaged in any lobbying of that kind. In fact we would agree that many of those kinds of activities have been harmful to our region and the country as a whole.

There is of course, another connotation of “lobbying” that is positive, and that is just an effort to urge Members of Congress to vote for or against specific legislation that an individual or group believes would be beneficial to the general well-being of the Delta region. There are many gray areas and activities that do NOT count as lobbying, however, and we would like to give some guidelines for those:

VOLUNTEER WORK DOES NOT COUNT AGAINS THE ORGANIZATION’S LOBBYING LIMITS–Volunteer activities do NOT count against lobbying limits of the organization. The Delta Grassroots Caucus relies heavily on volunteer work–in fact with the exception of the director and a few part-time staffers, we are basically a volunteer organization. The organization only counts as lobbying activities activities that it spends money on. So all the time our folks volunteer, even if they are lobbying, does not count as lobbying because it is volunteer work.

All of us, including the executive director of the Delta Caucus, can discuss information and facts about legislation. If you want to have a strictly informational communication with a Member of Congress or their staff, that is not lobbying. However, if you do not want to lobby, you should NOT urge them to vote for or against a specific piece of legislation–that would clearly be lobbying.

“Specific legislation” does NOT include litigation, rule-makings or promulgation of regulations, executive orders, or attempts to enforce existing laws.

When we assist the National Black Farmers Association and its leader, John Boyd, in disseminating information about how African American farmers may utilize the provisions of the existing law that was passed last year to help them exercise their legal rights in getting justice in the discrimination cases against African American farmers by USDA, that is NOT lobbying. That activity is just disseminating information about existing law.

OTHER EXCEPTIONS–There are specific exceptions for 501c3 organizations for activities that otherwise might appear to be lobbying on the surface, but actually are not. Among these exceptions are:

–A “nonpartisan analysis, study or research”

–“A substantive report that fully discusses the pros and cons of a legislative proposal”

A 501C3 CAN LOBBY UP TO 20% OF ITS BUDGET–For this 20% of our activities, we can engage in explicit, honest-to-gosh lobbying. A 501c3 does this by electing the 501h expenditure test of the IRS. The IRS has officially stated that 501c3 public charities “may lobby freely” so long as lobbying is within the specified limits. So, of course the Delta Caucus does engage in some lobbying, under this limit.

Of course, if your organization is prohibited from lobbying or you have a rule against lobbying, you should not engage in lobbying activities.

“Direct lobbying” is defined as a communication with a legislator that expresses a view about specific legislation.

“Grassroots lobbying” is defined as communication with the general public that expresses a view about specific legislation “AND INCLUDES A CALL TO ACTION”–which means telling the recipient to contact a legislator, contact information for the legislator or other mechanism for contacting them such as an email form or postcard, or identifying key legislators on an important committee or who are opposed or undecided on the legislation.

In the past, many key partners of the Delta Grassroots Caucus have felt that we have always operated within the guidelines of a 501c3, because many of our activities are informational that don’t have anything to do with lobbying. Nonetheless, to be on the safe side, we incorporated as a nonprofit under more general nonprofit provisions of the IRS Code. We are now in the process of making a full legal transition to a 501c3. The IRS, as we all know, moves paperwork forward very slowly so it may be well into 2009 before the full legal, official modification takes place.

When the transition is complete, there will be additional tax advantages and fund-raising advantages. The Delta Grassroots Caucus right now is already a “tax-exempt, nonprofit organization” under the IRS Code, but the more general provisions we operate under do not provide as extensive tax advantages as we will get when the 501c3 status is completed. Those will include enabling contributors to the Delta Caucus to gain tax advantages for all financial contributions to the Delta Caucus. Also, many foundations specify that their grants have to go to 501c3 organizations.

Up to now in our history we have prided ourselves on doing all this work on a very small budget and keeping all expenditure to a bare-bones minimum. We will always be very thrifty, but expanding the budget at this point in our evolution we enable us to do more for the region that we serve, so we are planning an expansion in fund-raising.

We are always very careful and the previous nonprofit classification we operated under was certainly right, if perhaps overly cautious, for our earlier history. Right now we are operating our organization in a way identical to a 501c3. Our executive director, Lee Powell, is not a federal registered lobbyist and we do not employ any federal registered lobbyists. Earlier in our history we did file a few lobbying reports, although that may have been overly cautious and probably not necessary, given the large volume of informational/communications activity we have always engaged in. On the other hand, again we always do everything in a very careful and cautious way.

We frequently get questions about what is “lobbying,” so we hope these key points and guideliness are helpful. For further guidance, see the Alliance for Justice website at

We look forward to a bright future for the Delta Grassroots Caucus. Thanks very much. Lee Powell, executive director, MDGC (202) 360-6347 Email: