Many non-profits have a pathological fear of anything political. The excuse is often some misplaced notion that anything associated with politics is off limits due to our tax exempt status. More often, I suspect it’s a desire to not actually take a position on anything, or intellectual laziness on the part of organizations which will actually have to move beyond reacting and identify a legislative effort which will allow us to pro-act. I will freely, if abashedly, admit to have engaged in both in the past.
However, these days HSBC is actively engaged in advocacy on all governmental levels and I think we are better, stronger and more effective as a result. It turns out that there can be an awful lot of “politicing” done by non-profits, as long as it’s issue related. We can’t say, “Vote for X, he likes dogs,” but we can say, “We should do this for dogs and X agrees, thank him for his support,” or “X voted against this, ask him to change his mind,” or “As a candidate for office, what do X and his opponent Y think about dogs?” It’s not about the candidate, it’s about the dogs (or whatever animal is your thing) and the issues and legislation and policies which impact them.
Sometimes we choose not to take up advocacy positions in non-profits because we have to face the fact that our personal political side is on the wrong side for animals.
For example, I am a die-hard political partisan in my personal life. In my 26 years as a voter I’ve never missed an election or primary, I give money to my party, I’ve served on my party’s county committees, I’ve walked in parades for my candidates, and I’ve canvassed. The odds of me voting for anyone outside my party are slim to none in a general election, regardless of their position on animals. If HSBC has a position which my personal candidate in the general election is opposed to, can I still advocate for it without being a traitor to my side? Of course!
As we all know, today’s elections are decided in primaries and that’s where a little information can go a long way. I’ve written in the past about the need to make animal welfare issues a new third rail in politics, one which no one on any side will want to touch. You think guns and grandma get politicians scrambling? Let’s add puppies and kitties to that list in both major parties, and the minor ones, too. An educated public can ensure that all their candidates in the party of their choice are good on animal issues so no matter who wins in a primary, all candidates will be on the right side of animal issues.
Then in the general election we can choose either party’s puppy hugger based on really important issues, like whether we want seven or thirty bullet ammo clips.
Being a non-profit does not silence us on issues which are vital to our missions and constituents. It merely means we must approach our speech differently. This can be very freeing. I shake hands with any politician of any party, regardless of who I will personally vote for, because HSBC serves animals in their districts and they need to know what their constituents think about animals. HSBC invites every elected official and every candidate to every event have so they can hear directly from us and our supporters- their voters- about animal welfare issues like tethering legislation, pigeon shoots, dog law reform, and more. We directly ask our supporters to directly contact their elected officials in support of animal welfare legislation. We ask no supporter to vote a particular way, just that they be informed and that if animals are important, they make it clear to the candidate of their choice.
Increasingly, we are seeing the fruits of these efforts. In a recent Senatorial contest in Berks, both major party candidates were equally solid on animal welfare positions. You and I might have cared who won on a slew of other issues, but on animals, both were good. Animal issues have begun to get bi-partisan support…yes, I’ll wait while you look up that little used term….and elected officials are actually finding common ground on animal bills when they can find little else to agree on. Candidates are showing up at animal events to kiss dogs the way they used to kiss babies.
And laws are being passed that languished for years. The gas chamber ban stalled for decades when the primary advocates were gas mask wearing looneys on the Statehouse steps. But when animal shelters across the state started advocating and asking their tens of thousands of supporters- voters- to call their elected officials, it finally passed and now gas chambers are history in PA. The recent Cost of Care bill, another long time stalled effort which provides for the cost of care for animals seized in cruelty cases, passed in large part to the dozens of sheltering organizations who personally advocated for the bill to their elected officials.
This success not only helps animals, it strengthens organizations. Those who raise their voice get noticed and they get supported by donor and volunteers. And stronger organizations can do more for animals and people.
So be careful and be informed. There are definitely red lines you need to be aware of and regulations which must be complied with. And lawyers who need your money, so consult one if you have questions about the rules. But don’t be afraid of raising your voice in support of the issues your organization feel are important.
There is nothing to fear, the politician is your friend. In some way they are like dogs: They require lots of positive reinforcement, training can sometimes take a while, and sometimes they growl. But mostly, they want to please their masters, the voters. Help them to do that by teaching them what we like when it comes to animals.
If you help a politician please his master, you’ll have a lifelong friend. And so will Pennsylvania’s animals.