Educational Advocacy vs. Lobbying

Educational Advocacy vs Lobbying

State grantees are prohibited from lobbying with state resources, but there are many non-lobbying activities that you can and should be implementing. These guidelines are provided to help you understand what you can do with your resources.

Lobbying vs. Advocacy

Lobbying is any verbal or written communication with a legislator or government official if and only if:

  • You refer to specific legislation or rules and;
  • You express a position on such legislation

Lobbying also includes grassroots lobbying, which is prohibited. For more on grassroots lobbying, see below.

Advocacy is the process of attempting to bring about social and/or organizational change on behalf of a particular health goal, program, interest, or population. Health advocacy includes educating policymakers and the public about evidence-based policy.

It is not lobbying to talk to a legislator about the health impact of a specific piece of legislation, as long as you don’t state a specific view on that legislation.


  • Lobbying: “We are asking you to vote in favor of the XX bill that increases funding for tobacco cessation programs in local health departments.”
  • Advocacy: Local health departments are key players in preventing and reducing tobacco use through clinical and prevention strategies.”

Further, Wisconsin rules consider direct communication on more than 4 days in a six month period with a legislator who are not your own representative to be reportable for lobbying purposes. For more information, please see this resource from the Government Accountability Board, When to Register as a Lobbyist (

Grassroots Lobbying

Grassroots lobbying is any attempt to influence legislation by encouraging the public to contact legislators about legislation. According to federal law, indirect attempts to communicate with and influence legislators would be considered grassroots lobbying if the communication:

  • Refers to specific legislation, and;
  • Encourages other people to express a view on the legislation to their elected officials


  • 🛑 Grassroots Lobbying: Asking volunteers to call their legislators and ask them to support or oppose part of the state budget is grassroots lobbying.
  • 🛑 Grassroots Lobbying: Writing a letter to the editor or newsletter column telling readers to contact legislators and ask them to support or oppose specific legislation is grassroots lobbying.
  • 🟢 Not grassroots lobbying: Sending an email to coalition members to tell them that particular bill has been introduced is NOT grassroots lobbying, as long as you do not tell them to take any action on that bill.

Activities That Are Not Lobbying

  • Meeting with a legislator to discuss an issue, without mentioning a specific proposal.
  • Providing a legislator with educational materials about a specific piece of legislation, without calling for specific action on the legislation.
  • Tracking activities of legislators, including votes, positions taken, contributions accepted, etc.
  • Talking to the media, as long as it doesn’t express a view on specific legislation.
  • Advocating for better enforcement of existing laws.
  • Conducting public education campaigns.
  • Producing and disseminating research reports or studies that provide nonpartisan analysis on policy issues, including specific legislative issues.
  • Advocating the enactment and enforcement of private or voluntary policies, (e.g., property managers making multi-unit housing smoke-free).
  • A newsletter to your own members providing info about a specific piece of legislation, but not a specific call to action (e.g., a request to call or write to legislators).
  • Transporting and feeding volunteers who will provide educational/non-lobbying testimony to a legislative committee, such as Joint Finance Committee.