Democracy at the Grassroots – Protecting Free Speech
January 18, 2007During the 2006 election campaign, the Democrats promised to make reforming the House a top priority. I’ve previously told “BreakPoint” listeners and readers about some of the things proposed, such as “earmark” reform, that are worthy of praise.Unfortunately, not all of their proposed “reforms” are praiseworthy. One in particular poses a threat to the rights of Christians to make themselves heard.The 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act requires “lobbyists” and “lobbying firms” to register and to comply with certain disclosure requirements. The 1995 law defines lobbyists as all “those who are paid to contact public officials on behalf of a client.”Late in the last Congress, the House and Senate passed amendments to the 1995 Act intended to address attempts to get around the Act’s requirements. And that’s where the problem begins.A provision of the House version is directed at what its supporters call “grassroots lobbying.” They claim that their intent is to “require ‘disclosure’ of certain big-dollar lobbying campaigns.” But the language of the provision isn’t very reassuring.For starters, the provision defines “grassroots lobbying” as “voluntary efforts” by ordinary citizens “to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials” and to “encourage other members of the general public to do the same” thing.If that sounds awfully broad to you, you’re not alone. Under this definition, if you contact your congressman regarding, for example, embryonic stem-cell research, and urge your friends to do the same thing, that’s “grassroots lobbying.”Funny, I thought that’s what the First Amendment called “petitioning Congress for the redress of grievances.” While it’s been a while since I have been in law school, I’m pretty certain that it still is an explicit constitutional right.It gets worse. Under the provisions, a church that took out a newspaper ad in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment could theoretically be required to meet the same registration and reporting requirements as a K Street lobbying firm.While K Street has armies of lawyers who handle these requirements and, thus, are not intimidated by the provisions, churches and nonprofits would be. The perverse result would be business-as-usual on Capitol Hill and K Street and an impermissible “chilling effect” on the First Amendment rights of ordinary citizens.Fortunately, there is an alternative: An amendment to the Senate version, sponsored by Senator Bob Bennett (R) of Utah, would eliminate this provision and replace it with much narrower language—language that addresses the abuses that prompted the legislation, but without infringing on the First Amendment rights of ordinary Americans.That’s the good news. The bad news is that we have almost no time to let Congress know that we are not going to sit idly by while our most basic constitutional rights are confiscated.As soon as you’re finished listening to or reading this commentary, you need to go the BreakPoint website for the information you will need when you contact your senators. And then urge them to vote in favor of Senator Bennett’s amendment. If we don’t make ourselves heard on this matter, the only voices that will be heard are those who can afford people to talk on their behalf.
I am really concerned about what Congress is attempting to do. Chuck Colson wrote a great article that discusses how Congress wants to restrict our voice. I am posting his entire Breakpoint commentary below. We need to contact our Senators & Representatives like… right now!
Editor & Founder at Caffeinated Thoughts
Shane Vander Hart is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts. He is also the President of 4:15 Communications, LLC, a social media & communications consulting/management firm. Prior to this Shane spent 20 years in youth ministry serving in church, parachurch, and school settings. He has also served as an interim pastor and is a sought after speaker and pulpit fill-in. Shane has been married to his wife Cheryl since 1993 and they have three kids. Shane and his family reside near Des Moines, IA.