RegisterRenters started in 2004 as a program to educate renters and help them vote. Because research* suggested over 60% of renters would vote for Democrats, and because we were strong Dems, we secured most of our 1000+ volunteers through local Dem organizations, although many hard working volunteers were anti-war Veterans of Vietnam. Regardless of this bias, we did not discriminate against members of other political parties. While we targeted renters in precincts that had a history of voting for Democrats, we provided registration materials at every door and instructed our volunteers they must offer materials to everyone, even if they identified with another political party. And although no candidate organization actively supported voter registration in 2004, we did offer our voter registration materials to those field staff who saw its merits. By scrounging, our volunteers managed to produce and distribute over 150,000 registration packets with the $15,000 we managed to raise from a mailing to friends, family and large donors to Democrats. And RegisterRenters was given credit for many victories in Colorado in 2004. Research after the election showed that newly registered voters turned out to vote at 85%, giving Democrats the majority in both houses of the Colorado legislature for the first time in decades.
RegisterRenters remains primarily an educational organization concerned with general issue advocacy. However, times have changed. Since one party has taken a position opposed to democracy nationwide, political neutrality is no longer tenable. Sowing fear, bigotry and hatred at every opportunity, that party threatens to replace democracy with fascism. And while we know that many of our friends and neighbors are good people, some still cling emotionally to that party. To prevent civil war, we strongly believe that the principles of democracy must be supported, and these principles are now only supported by the Democratic Party at the local and National level.
Therefore, we advocate strongly for the pro-democracy position of the Democratic Party and their candidates while we continue to focus the majority of our time, attention and resources on distributing educational materials to enable all renters to register and to vote. We will continue to operate RegisterRenters.org as a not for profit LLC, although we may file as a 501c3 at some point during this election. Since we have no intention of buying paid advertising for candidates or any political party, we believe our advocacy is protected speech and does not comprise the express advocacy defined by the Supreme Court, which we understands also permits nonprofits to spend up to 15% of their resources on direct advocacy.
The following article describes the distinction between Issue Advocacy and Express Advocacy. We reprint it here with thanks to Ballotpedia.org.
Issue advocacy refers to political advertising focused on “broad political issues rather than specific candidates.” It does not attempt to persuade the public of particular electoral outcomes, but rather seeks to highlight broader political or social issues. Issue advocacy is distinguished from express advocacy, which, as the term suggests, expressly and clearly supports or opposes a particular electoral outcome. Express advocacy advertisements include “for” or “against” statements. Candidate-supported advertisements, for instance, which expressly state whether to vote for or against a candidate, are by definition express advocacy. Advertisements focused on broader issues, which do not use express statements of support or opposition, are by definition issue advocacy.
The 1976 Buckley v. Valeo U.S. Supreme Court decision established two types of political advertising: express advocacy and issue advocacy. Express advocacy advertisements explicitly recommend election or defeat of a candidate. They are also subject to federal campaign regulations. Issue advocacy advertisements, on the other hand, educate voters on broader issues; they are not campaign-oriented.
The Buckley decision established a test by which to judge whether political advertisements were express advocacy or issue advocacy by use of the so-called “magic words,” which are “clear expressions of support or opposition” for a particular electoral outcome. Examples of clear expression or opposition include terms like “vote for,” “election,” “support,” “vote against,” “defeat” and “reject.” Advertisements avoiding those magic words are not considered express advocacy; rather, they are considered issue advocacy.