Protecting the public's health has always been an inherently political endeavor. The field of public health, however, is conspicuously and persistently absent from sustained, sophisticated engagement in political processes, particularly elections, that determine policy outcomes. This results, in large part, from widespread misunderstanding of rules governing how, and how much, public advocates working in tax-exempt organizations can participate in public policy development.
This article briefly summarizes the rules governing public policy engagement by exempt organizations. It then describes different types of exempt organizations, and how they can work together to expand engagement. Next, it identifies several key mechanisms of policy development that public health advocates could influence. Finally, it suggests some methods of applying the tax rules to increase participation in these arenas.