Nonprofit, Lobbying & Political Law: The Impact of the CARES Act on Political Activities, Lobbying Expenditures, and Nonprofits: What Provisions Did and Did Not Make It into the Final Legislation

Saturday, March 28, 2020

On March 27th, President Trump signed into law a sweeping, $2 trillion coronavirus relief package (the “CARES Act”) that will provide immediate assistance to many Americans, small business, and major industries on the brink of economic collapse amid the ongoing pandemic. Of course, after the Senate approved the package, the House vote wasn’t without drama. Members from across the country were forced to scramble to return to Washington to block Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) from delaying passage of the bill, and certain House Democrats signaled that they might push forward many of their ideas contained in the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act (“House Bill”) that was introduced on March 23rd.

If you’re wondering how the CARES Act impacts political activities, lobbying expenditures, and nonprofits generally, here’s a brief summary of: (1) the relevant provisions that were included in the final version of the CARES Act; and (2) the relevant provisions that were proposed but ultimately excluded in the final version of the CARES Act. 


  • A provision establishing the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides short-term relief to certain small businesses, including section 501(c)(3) charitable organizations and section 501(c)(19) veterans organizations, to assist with certain payroll and operational costs.
  • A provision amending congressional ethics rules to permit members of Congress to use official franked mass mailings “in the case of mailings sent in response to or to address threats to life safety.”
  • Various provisions addressing transparency measures that will ensure oversight and accountability, including the creation of a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and public-facing tools to track the use of funds.
  • A provision appropriating $400 million to the Election Assistance Commission for the purpose of making election security grants to the states.


Conditioning of Corporate Federal Aid

  • A provision prohibiting a corporation from carrying out any federal lobbying activities until the corporation repays the aid to the federal government.
  • A provision requiring a subset of corporate aid recipients (“accelerated filers”) to issue quarterly disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission, its shareholders, and the public on a permanent basis detailing the corporation’s giving and political spending plans. Under a previous House Bill, the disclosures would have included: (1) a detailed description of the political expenditures made during the preceding quarter; (2) a description of corporate involvement with trade associations or other nonprofit organizations; (3) a summary of each expenditure for political activities made in the previous year if the total amount exceeds $10,000 and each expenditure for political activities for a particular election if the total amount exceeds $10,000; and (4) a description of the nature specific nature and amount of any expenditure that a corporation intends to make in the upcoming fiscal year, if known.
  • A provision broadly defining “expenditure for political activities” to include independent expenditures; electioneering communications; certain public communications that are not considered electioneering communications and made on broadcast, cable, or satellite television; dues or other payments to trade associations or nonprofit organizations that could be used to fund an independent expenditure or electioneering communication.

Voter Registration and Early Voting Requirements

  • A provision requiring states to create or recreate online registration tools conforming to the National Voter Registration Act on an accelerated timeline.
  • A provision requiring states to permit same-day voter registration in time for the November 2020 General Election.
  • A provision requiring states to allow early voting periods of 15 days before the date of the election and requires at least 10 hours of availability for voting on those days.

Absentee Ballot Requirements

  • A provision requiring states to eliminate proof of identity, witness signatures, or notarization requirements for requesting an absentee ballot.
  • A provision requiring states to mail absentee ballots to all voters in a jurisdiction declared as a state of emergency or a disaster, including for the November 2020 election.  
  • A provision requiring state and local jurisdictions to pay for postage on any ballot cast by mail and provide self-sealing envelopes.
  • A provision that would permit someone, other than the voter, to collect and submit the voter’s ballot for counting.


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