Civic Engagement

Civic engagement is people’s right — and the backbone of a healthy society.

Get involved

At RE Sources, we believe civic engagement is our right, privilege, and collective responsibility — to remain informed and be a part of the decisions being made in our communities. The decisions made in local and state-level elections will directly affect our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. We have great power as individuals to positively impact our communities by voting, communicating with our elected officials, and engaging in public processes.

Most people don’t have time to study up on the myriad policy issues that affect us. That’s why our staff of policy analysts, scientists, and educators pay close attention to the complex public processes and policies that govern how our communities operate. We help you, the voters, understand what is happening and how you can make your voice heard.

No, we don’t back candidates.

We care about the issues at stake — climate change, water quality, protecting forests and farmlands, protecting threatened and endangered species, availability of potable water, community health and safety, jobs and local economies — not about party lines or individual candidates. We never endorse, back, campaign for, or electioneer any candidates — It is illegal to do so as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. See the FAQ tab of this page to view nonprofits’ legal limitations during elections.

Whatcom Votes - participate in elections that matterGet Out the Vote

As one of our civic engagement efforts, RE Sources leads Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns to register voters and encourage voting in local elections. In addition to ensuring young people, newcomers, and other underrepresented groups are registered to vote, we aim to inspire Whatcom County residents to take part in elections and ensure that we have high voter turnout in every election.

They may not be as exciting or high-profile as the U.S. Presidential primaries, but county-level elections are a great opportunity to make real change. Local elections have a tremendous impact on the everyday life of residents, and are often won by a small handful of votes. City and County Councils can act on issues such as affordable housing, education, protection of natural resources, land use planning, and more.

Voter education

It’s important that voters guard against misinformation, ignorance, and willful manipulation to prevent being misguided by candidates, elected officials, and private interests. The best defense voters have is to go beyond opinions and ideas, and equip themselves with non-partisan, fact-based information. That is what RE Sources provides to our communities. We host candidate forums and educational meetings, and we distribute educational materials on public policy issues that affect the health of people and the environment. We make it easy for our community to access information that empowers their civic engagement.

Our position is non-partisan — we endorse the environment, not political candidates or parties.

Public processes

Those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. This is a vital democratic function. Public participation opportunities exist everywhere in our government’s policy and decision making processes.

Public participation is a process, not a single event. It consists of a series of opportunities, sometimes over the course of years, to inform and gather input from the public on a policy or project that could impact our community. It can mean submitting a comment on a proposed project, contacting your legislators to share your viewpoint on a bill being presented, or providing your special expertise to help enrich governmental decisions.

Public participation in government processes not only provides people the opportunity to influence decisions that affect their lives — it’s a critical check and balance to ensure the public’s will is being accurately represented. Public processes offer a powerful invitation for civic engagement.

Photo at top by Rachel Lee, WEC


“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”

The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations, United States Internal Revenue Service

No, not ever. Backing individual candidates (electioneering) directly or indirectly is illegal for 501(c)3 nonprofits. See previous question for the IRS legal code.

Yes, sometimes. Unlike electioneering, which is the support of candidates, lobbying is the support of legislation. If there is a policy decision to be made that will affect the environment, public health or public safety, we will urge the public to contact decision makers in support of or opposition to that legislation or policy. This is a small part of our work.

We track and report all of our lobbying activity to the IRS in compliance with the law.

Other groups, like Washington Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, and League of Conservation Voters operate in part under a different IRS status and are permitted to lobby more and back candidates. RE Sources is not. We lobby on issues, but not for candidates.

In 2015, we supported Proposition 9 for 5 Fair and Equal Districts, a Whatcom County charter amendment to create five voting districts with even populations for County Council elections (two for Bellingham and three outside Bellingham). Previously, each district contained part of Bellingham, and all general elections were voted countywide. In the 2015 County Charter Review process, a campaign funded by coal terminal-backers sought to enact District-Only voting with three districts that all included parts of Bellingham, thus dividing and diluting the votes of city-residents for county elections. This compromise measure ensures rural voters are guaranteed representation outside of Bellingham.

In 2018, we supported I-1631, the statewide ballot measure to invest in clean energy and climate resilience by assigning a carbon fee to major polluters statewide. As a member of the Climate Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, RE Sources hosted campaign operations in Bellingham for 18 months. Though the measure failed to pass, we are proud that 68% of voters in Bellingham approved the measure.

In 2019 we opposed I-976, Tim Eyman’s ballot proposal to eliminate billions of dollars in funding for essential transportation infrastructure. This measure passed, and was challenged in Washington State Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

RE Sources currently has public funding for four of our projects.

  1. We are contracted by the City of Bellingham to teach K-12 students about stormwater pollution and water conservation.
  2. We are contracted by Whatcom County to teach students and school staff about waste reduction and recycling.
  3. We receive grant funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology to teach Whatcom County residents about the 16 MTCA (Model Toxics Control Act) cleanup sites in Whatcom County and how the public can engage in the cleanup plan.
  4. We receive, indirectly, funding from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to implement ClimeTime, science-based curriculum, tools, and training for teachers who want to teach about climate change.

Public funding contracts and grants have strict monitoring and reporting requirements and funds from these contracts cannot be used for any other activity or staff apart from those specifically designated in the contract. We take our publicly-funded work very seriously, and operate with the highest integrity to fulfill our commitments to our funders and community.

No. Helping community members understand and stay abreast of important public processes that will impact them is only a part of how we create a thriving community in Whatcom County.

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