Senate Bill seeks to regulate "grass roots" lobbying-Truth! But Overturned!

Senate Bill Seeks to Further Regulate “Grass Roots” Lobbying-Truth!-But Overturned!

Summary of eRumor:
An alert from the American Family Association (AFA) that says that a new bill (Senate Bill 1, Section 220) will “…effectively keep AFA and every other pro-family organization in America from providing you information on bills in Congress.”

The Truth:
On January 18, 2007, senators removed language from a lobby reform bill that was opposed by numerous citizens organizations ranging from Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The legislation in Senate Bill 1, section 220, was part of what was being called the Lobby Reform Bill. It proposed changes regarding what lobbyists are required to disclose and how often.  It didn’t target any particular types of organizations, such as pro-life or pro-family, but a part of the bill, section 220, was about lobbyists who become involved in so called grassroots campaigns such as appealing to the general public to support or oppose legislation and to tell members of congress how they feel about it.

Opponents of the legislation said it was an attempt to silence grassroots campaigns by putting reporting requirements on them that will cost a lot of time and money to implement.  They said, for example, that under the legislation any small group that sent out communication to more than 500 people will be required to register as a lobbying group and be subject to the reporting regulations.  Joining the American Family Association was Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family in expressing alarm about section 220.  In a statement released to its constituents, Focus on the Family said, “If S.1 passes with these outrageous provisions, communications from Focus Action, known as ‘grassroots communications,’ will be tied up in miles of new red tape. These bureaucratic restrictions are clearly a concerted effort to insulate legislators from criticism. At the same time, Section 220 will allow labor unions, trade associations and foreign corporations unregulated access to legislators.
”  The bill exempts organizations that are communicating directly with members, such as a labor union.
Supporters of the bill, however, said that the reporting requirements apply only to organizations and lobbyists who were already required to register and who were spending a lot of money on lobbying activities.  In other words, it targeted the big lobbyists.  However, if an organization spent more than $24,500 semi-annually on direct lobbying activities, it would have been required to register as a lobbying entity and report on any grass roots activity as well.  So the mere sending of 500 communications would not have require an entity to register as a lobbyist and report on grass roots activities, but larger organizations like AFA and Focus on the Family would probably have had to register, which worried them.
In an unusual alliance, one of the organizations that joined in opposition to section 220 was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The provisions of section 220 are identical to legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate last March, which the ACLU encouraged its members to reject. “The right to petition the government is “one of the most precious of the liberties safeguarded by the Bill of Rights,” the ACLU said in a statement.  “When viewed through this prism, the thrust of the grassroots lobbying regulation is at best misguided, and at worst would seriously undermine the basic freedom that is the cornerstone of our system of government.”
Updated 1/18/07