EveryLibrary is creating a new twist on the saying “think globally, act locally.” The new political action committee (PAC), a non-partisan 501c4 organization, will raise funds nationally and spend them in support of local library ballot initiatives like taxes, bonds, and referenda. It will also serve as a political campaign consultancy for libraries.
“EveryLibrary is built on the idea that any library ballot initiative anywhere matters to every library everywhere,” said John Chrastka, founder and executive director of EveryLibrary, which bills itself as the first and only national PAC for libraries. […] “Elections are the ‘last mile’ of library advocacy.”
In addition to registering with the IRS as a 501c4 social welfare organization, EveryLibrary is also planning to register with the state of Illinois as a non-profit corporation. Although the organization itself can be deducted as business expenses, according to the Better Business Bureau.
Most existing library associations are 501c3 organizations, which means donations to them are tax deductible, but they’re not allowed to engage in direct voter advocacy.
EveryLibrary is conducting an initial $50,000 fundraising round from September 5 to November 7 to underwrite the fees associated with its legal filings and to create campaign toolkits, voter education materials, and messaging targeted to 2013 election initiatives. “Initially, we will build toolkits. Over time, we expect to have the staff who can help your library’s initiative from pre-filing through election day,” the group says on its website. The group also lists 2012 initiatives on its website, so interested individuals can support them directly.
“The legal documents are being prepared to be filed as soon as we cross the funding threshold. It will take several weeks to hear back from the IRS,” Chrastka told LJ. “Our charter and bylaws will be shared with the library community in October for comment and feedback. We want to be transparent in how we build this organization. It isn’t a traditional PAC.”
One example of a similar PAC in another field, Chrastka said, is the Conservation Campaign. “While they are technically a subordinate 501c4 to The Trust for Public Land (a 501c3), they have a similar approach to non-partisan support for local ballot initiatives concerning taxing authority or bonding to acquire land for the public good.”
Chrastka is a partner in AssociaDirect, a Chicago-based consultancy “focused on supporting associations in membership recruitment, conference, and governance activities.” He served as Director for Membership Development at the American Library Association (ALA) until August 2011. (ALA is an AssociaDirect client.) He remains a trustee member of ALA, as well as a member of the Illinois Library Association (ILA), where he chairs the Fundraising Committee. He is also president of the Board of Trustees for the Berwyn (IL) Public Library and a former president of the Reaching Across Illinois Libraries System (RAILS).
“AssociaDirect has no formal role in EveryLibrary,” Chrastka told LJ. “I expect to continue that work while ramping up EveryLibrary for 2013 and 2014 elections. The professional staff and consultants EveryLibrary hires will be solely employed or contracted by EveryLibrary.”
In addition to the staff that will run the organization on a day to day basis, Chrastka is currently in discussions to recruit a three member Board of Directors which, he says, will be in place at filing. There will also be an Advisory Board composed of 12–15 people from public, academic, and school libraries. The Advisory Board will decide which initiatives to fund and which campaigns to consult for. Advisory board nominations will open in December, “and I hope to bring in a wide ranging group by January,” Chrastka told LJ.
In addition to getting input from the Advisory Board, Chrastka plans to reach out to the larger library community. “EveryLibrary wants to be in coalition with the other national, state, and regional associations,” Chrastka told LJ.
Emily Sheketoff, executive director of ALA’s Washington Office, feels the same way. Though EveryLibrary is not affiliated in any way with ALA—“They are completely independent,” Sheketoff confirmed—“we can work with him and we hope to work with him. Our 501c3 status does not allow us to campaign for a candidate, but it will certainly allow us to support libraries in their effort to get funding in state and local races.”
Even EveryLibrary itself does not mention any plan to campaign for specific candidates, only ballot questions. However, Sheketoff explained, EveryLibrary can’t just become a 501c3 and accept tax deductible donations, because “501c3s can only spend a certain limited amount of their resources on campaigning.”
In the long run, Sheketoff also feels helping EveryLibrary may help ALA’s efforts as well. “A former speaker of the house, Tip O’Neill, used to say ‘all politics is local,’” said Sheketoff. “So as local libraries develop a strong cadre of supporters, those newly developed library supporters will help us on the federal level for federal legislation to help libraries.”