October 12, 2010; Source: Los Angeles Times | A nonprofit coalition called Arts in the California Governor’s Race has called out the state’s two gubernatorial candidates, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, for their just about nonexistent proposals that address the coalition’s belief “in the need for meaningful public support for the arts and arts education.” The coalition is apparently scouring the candidates’ proposals that relate to the arts and laying out what the arts do for the state’s economy.

We like this kind of straightforward approach to electoral contests by a nonprofit. Public charities cannot engage in electioneering, but they can put their issues on the agenda and ask candidates where they stand on specifics that relate to the treatment of nonprofits. This is a heck of a lot better than the silly effort in the 2008 elections to get presidential candidates to say something akin to, “I (heart) nonprofits.”

For example, they can ask gubernatorial candidates where they stand on late contract payments, which NPQ described in an online piece here, or what they want to do with (or for) for-profit social enterprises such as L3Cs and B corporations—and how they will protect or bolster the roles of public charities in the process.

Ask candidates for federal office where they stand on ensuring that federal agencies build in major roles for the nonprofit delivery system in their programs. Ask federal candidates where they stand on government support for nonprofit capacity-building programs, on Representative McCollum’s proposed nonprofit commission, on raising the foundation payout rate and lowering the foundation excise tax. Ask both state and federal hopefuls about their commitment to funding the full cost of nonprofit services (rather than making nonprofits pitch in one-fourth to one-half out of their own coffers).

The point isn’t to get milquetoast, mom-and-apple-pie statements from campaign spokespersons, but to put nonprofit issues onto campaign agendas and let candidates know that nonprofits will be watching—and nonprofit staff people, as individuals, will be voting.

The Arts in the California Governor’s Race may not affect Brown and Whitman, but they may be part of a movement for nonprofits to be more effective participants in the electoral process without crossing the line into prohibited partisan electioneering.—Rick Cohen