"Stimulating grassroots lobbying" for pay;
|If the bill is passed with its present wording, Focus Action would have to track all expenditures in every part of its activity in order to meet reporting requirements.|
|The vote on the bill may be held on on JAN-17 or 18.|
|They need a million people to object to their legislators in order to prevent the bill's passage.|
Others speaking on the program said that:
|Pastors of large churches who delivered sermons urging the members of their congregation to contact their legislators might fall under this proposed regulation.|
|The bill is so amorphous that the true scope of the bill is unclear.|
|The bill "... comes down hard on the groups that speak for the little guy."|
|If the bill is passed, the public "... many never hear another radio program like this one" in the future. 10|
On 2007-JAN-11, the Family Research Council (FRC) issued a Washington Update that discussed S. 1 in a report titled: "Keep off the Grassroots." They wrote, in part, that S. 1:
"... would effectively silence grassroots organizations on policy issues. As we reported earlier this week, S.1 would require us to notify Congress about alerts, ads, and editorials, sometimes weeks in advance. Obviously that would make our efforts to inform the grassroots somewhat irrelevant, since we can rarely predict which issues Congress will debate weeks ahead of time--let alone how those debates will fare and what their ramifications will be." 7
FRC also distributed a mass Email on the afternoon of JAN-12. They stated that the bill contains a provision that:
"... seeks to silence groups like the Family Research Council from informing you on the issues. ... This is a move to stop us from informing you about the issues you find important. ...
Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) has introduced an amendment to S. 1 that would strip this abusive language from the bill. The Senator realizes that just as it would be unconstitutional to monitor the press because of their contact with their readers, Congress has no business monitoring the motives of citizens who contact Washington to express their views." 5
This message is posted to the FRC web site as an alert. 8
The E-mails by Focus Action and Family Research Center seem to indicate that the goals of Section 220 of Bill S.1 are twofold:
Both of these goals would clearly be unconstitutional because the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The "freedom of speech" clause would clearly make the both goals unconstitutional. The "petition the government" clause might make the second goal unconstitutional as well.
The title of Section 220 is: "Disclosure of paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying." [Emphasis ours].
Section 220 defines "Grassroots lobbying" as one would expect: individuals discussing their own views on an issue directly with Federal officials -- often their representative or senator. It also involves individuals encouraging other people to contact their officials and to do the same. 6
It is obvious that Family Action and the FRC commit much of their effort via radio, mass distribution of Emails, and other communication techniques to urge people to conduct "grassroots lobbying," and to motivate people to encourage others to conduct "grassroots lobbying" on their own. These conservative Christian groups engage extensively in "efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying." In fact, it is arguably their prime function.
However, Section 220's title indicates that it is only paid "efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" that would regulated by this bill. It appears that the bill would concern a group like the FRC only if it were actually hired by some person or group and paid by them to "stimulate grassroots lobbying" on a specific topic.
Section 220 describes "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" as involving a client who pays lobbyists to encourage 500 or more members of the general public to express their views to officials in the federal government's legislative or executive branch or Congress as a whole. The definition, expressed in full legalese, is available online. 1
Thus, the section only appears to apply if a lobbying firm is being paid by others to manipulate public opinion and to motivate large numbers of people to contact government officials about something. Such a lobbying firm would be required to:
|Register with the government. The bill states that:|
"Not later than 45 days after a grassroots lobbying firm first is retained by a client to engage in paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying, such grassroots lobbying firm shall register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives." [Emphasis ours]
|Estimate their income and expenses involved with lobbying efforts on a quarterly basis. This does not have to be an accurate estimate. If it is less than $25,000, the lobbying firm would only have to say that it was less than $25,000. If it is more than $25,000, it can be rounded off to the nearest $20,000. Thus, the accounting load on the lobbying firm should be minimal.|
So, as far as a conservative Christian advocacy agency is concerned, it appears that:
|Section 220 of Bill S.1 would seem to apply only in the special case where the agency was being paid by somebody or some group to manipulate public opinion in the hope that many members of the public would contact government officials.|
|The bill would not impede the freedom of speech of any religious agency -- whether it was acting on its own initiative, or had been hired by a client as lobbyists to promote a cause in exchange for money. They could advocate support for what they considered a "pro-family" bill, or advocate opposition for an "anti-family" bill to their hearts' content.|
|The bill would not impede any member of the public from learning about any family issue.|
|The bill would not impede people's freedom to contact any government official about anything.|
So we are faced with a mystery. Section 220 of Bill S. 1 would only kick for an agency like Focus Action in the event that they were being paid by somebody or some company to manipulate the public's opinion and actions.
We are unaware of any conservative Christian agency that works in this way. We have always assumed that when one of these agencies advocates for or against a bill that would affect the family, they are acting on on the basis of their own cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs. That is, they are not being paid by some other person or group to manipulate the public. Perhaps these agencies are concerned that if the bill is passed, it might open the door to future legislation that would actually regulate their activity. Or perhaps they want to be able to engage in "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" on behalf of some funding source that hires them, and don't want the additional administrative responsibilities that S. 1 would require.
Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) has introduced an amendment to S. 1 that would remove this provision from the bill. On JAN-13, we were unable to find any information about his amendment or about S. 1 on his website. 9
On 2006-JAN-17, Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) argued in favor of Amendment 20 to Bill S. 1 which would eliminate Section 220. He quoted from letters by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Right to Life Committee who both oppose the provision. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) defended the section. 11
The Senate passed the amendment, removing the requirement that Focus Action and other groups report to the government when they are hired by an outside funding source to manipulate public opinion on behalf of that source.
CitizenLink, a service of Focus on the Family, issued an alert on 2007-FEB-15 warning that lobbying reform legislation is headed for the House of Representatives, and that the special provision for paid lobbyists, including non-profit groups -- may be reinstated in the bill. Amanda Banks, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said:
"We are anticipating that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will most likely introduce another lobbying-reform bill that will include the grassroots-lobbying provision. But it's a wait-and-see game at this point." 12
Dr. Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, said:
"We keep having to fight the same battles over and over again because some of those on the left just will not take 'No' for an answer. We sent a resounding message to the Senate saying that we have a right to tell our lawmakers what we think and what's important to us, yet it looks like we're going to have to fight this battle one more time." 12
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Original posting: 2007-JAN-13
Latest update: 2007-FEB-16
Author: B.A. Robinson