As foundations work to foster and build relationships with their elected officials and staff, both at home in their districts, 2012 presents a rare challenge to keep in mind: redistricting. The person who is your congressional representative today may not represent you a year from now. New York is losing two congressional seats. Texas is gaining four. For most states, the lines for existing districts are being redrawn with sometimes dramatic differences.
Who draws the lines? It varies by state. Some use their elected legislatures. Others use independent commissions to draw districts, while in some cases the courts need to step in and take over.
Foundations would be wise to get out in front of this change and begin embracing the new districts now, rather than later. Be it in-district or in Washington, D.C., consider setting up meetings with multiple legislators and staff. If you find yourself in a situation where redistricting will likely saddle you with a different legislator in 2013, meeting with your current elected official to thank them for their support is a good move strategically. However, it is even more important to meet with your potential representative to introduce yourself and your organization. Such gestures are not considered campaigning-and they will not be forgotten.
What if you’re in one of the dozen or so districts being merged and multiple current House members will be competing for the seat? Reaching out to both would be the wise decision. Politicians recognize that foundations are independent organizations that cannot take sides in an election, and will understand that you need to cover your bases.
Finally, what about meeting with challengers? Meeting with candidates for public office is permissible for private foundations and public charities as long as your activities do not indicate support or opposition to candidates for office (partisan political activity). To that end, it is prudent to reach out to all candidates to discuss your organization’s work so as not to show a bias toward a particular candidate. Additionally, caution should be used when creating your messages for these meetings due to the restrictions on lobbying activity for private foundations and the prohibition against partisan political activity by any charity.
For a fantastic resource about redistricting, check out the 2012 Cook Political Report Redistricting Outlook. And if you are interested in furthering your foundation’s mission through advocacy, consider attending the Council’s upcoming webinar on the subject on April 12, and learn more from the Council’s public policy and field operations teams.
Hal McCabe is director of field operations at the Council on Foundations.