Advocacy Guidance for Land Trusts

Eastern Box Turtle, Middletown Photo Credit Barrie Robbins-Pianka

The advice on these pages is for informational purposes only; it may not be relevant or accurate to any particular individual or organization and should not be considered a substitute for consulting with an attorney

Election Season Opportunities

While your land trust, as a 501(c)3 organization, is prohibited from endorsing candidates or engaging in partisan election activities, you are permitted to reach out to candidates running for office to remind them of your land trust's goals and mission, and provide them with information on the issues that are important to your organization and community.

Being evenhanded and nonpartisan with your outreach is key. Be careful to avoid any appearance that you are taking sides in a campaign for office.

Some ideas:

  • Send a land trust brochure to all candidates in your district;
  • Host a nonpartisan candidates forum, including all candidates; and/or
  • Write a letter to the editor describing land conservation success stories in your community.

For individuals, if you are going to be politically active in a campaign, be mindful to clearly act only as an individual and carefully avoid any use of or connection to your land trust's name or resources.

For additional information see:

Election Year Opportunities by Sean Robertson and Catherine Ward, Saving Land Magazine, Fall 2016 Issue (article also attached below)

Land Trust Alliance: Politics: What's Allowed?

Nonprofit Vote

  • Nonprofits, Voting & Elections: A Guide to Nonpartisan Voter Engagement: "This guide provides your 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization the knowledge you need to promote voter participation and engage with candidates on a nonpartisan basis. It begins with a review of the prohibition against partisan political activities. It then discusses the many nonpartisan activities 501(c)(3)'s may engage in to assist their constituents, staff and local communities to register and vote or connect with candidates."

CT Associaton of Nonprofits

  • Nonprofits & Elections: "Nonprofits can participate in election-related activities, although it must be done in a completely nonpartisan manner in order to maintain our tax-exempt status. Making election-related activities a part of your organization's efforts is an important way not only to get the voices of those you serve heard, but also to ensure that the good work and needs of your organization are known to current and future lawmakers."

State of CT Election Enforcement Commission:   Candidate Registration List for Election 2016

Land Conservation in Connecticut:  A Primer 

With over 137 land trusts in the state represented by more than 1,000 dedicated board members, over 3,500 volunteers and nearly 40,000 land trust members, the land trust community has the potential to exert tremendous impact on state land conservation policy and funding.  CLCC continues to build on its success in harnessing this latent power by not only representing the interests of this community in Hartford but also by galvanizing the members to take action on their own with respect to critical issues.  To that end, in May 2015 Rachel Plawecki and Anthony Mecum, graduate students at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, developed a conservation primer for CLCC which may be used by advocates and land trust representatives when meeting with legislators on conservation policy issues.  This one-page document is available for download below.

Legalities of Lobbying for Land Trusts

As more land trusts get involved with advocacy, questions arise concerning what is legal or not under IRS regulations for non-profit organizations. It is important to note that it is perfectly legal for such groups to lobby; they just have to restrict the amount of it they do. The following links and websites can give you more information, though it’s important to check with an attorney about your particular situation.

State Laws Affecting Land Trusts  (see Conservation Primer for additional conservation-related Connecticut General Statutes)

State Tax Credits

While Connecticut laws do not provide a conservation tax credit or exemption for individual tax filers as federal law does, the state does provide significant incentives to corporations that donate land, or sell it for below market value, for conservation.

Recreational Liability

Connecticut General Statutes Sections 52-557 f-j provide that private landowners (individuals, corporations, land trusts and other nonprofits, and private utilities) which open their land to the public for recreational purposes, without charging any fee, are immune from liability.  In 2011, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a recreational liability bill (H.B. 6557) which extends the recreational liability protection to municipalities.  The bill was signed into law by Governor Dannel P. Malloy (P.L. 11-211).  Note that there are some exceptions to this immunity.  Furthermore, even if ultimately found to be immune from liability, a landowner can still incur expenses for getting a case dismissed.  It is therefore important to have premises liability insurance to cover legal expenses in defending a lawsuit. More information on insurance for land trusts is attached below.

Public Act 490 Current Use Property Tax Assessments

Connecticut law allows much farmland, open space, or forest land to be assessed for local property tax purposes, according to its current use rather than its potential use for development. This provides a critical reduction in tax rates for many landowners, who would otherwise have to sell their land for development.

Consult with these websites for more information:

Encroachments or Other Violations on Preserved Land

In 2006,  CLCC worked with the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality to significantly strengthen potential penalties against those who illegally cut trees on or otherwise damage preserved land. Previously, the laws which dated from the 1700’s, required penalties to be based on the timber value of the land, which with certain species, would have amounted to very little, even with 150-year-old trees with high conservation value. Under Connecticut General Statutes Section 52-560a, for encroachment on land owned by or protected, through a conservation easement held by a land trust, the court can award restoration or cost of restoration including management fees, attorneys feeds, costs, equitable relief, and penalties of up to five times the cost of restoration or $5,000 in statutory damages.  The statute also provides the Connecticut Attorney General with standing to enforce the law.  Relevant statutory sections start at Section 52-560 and, although not as relevant for most land trusts, Section 23-65.htm.