From: alra@governance.net
Subject: Groundswell Opposition To Grassroots Censorship Expands  Call Your Se

Land Rights Network
American Land Rights Association
PO Box 400 - Battle Ground, WA 98604
Phone: 360-687-3087 - FAX: 360-687-2973
Email: alra@governance.net or alra@pacifier.com
Web Address: http://www.landrights.org
Legislative Office: 507 Seward Square SE - Washington, DC 20003

Groundswell Opposition To Grassroots Censorship Expands  Call Your Senators 

*****See Action Items Below

Wide Opposition to Grass-Roots Lobbying Requirement
Diverse groups say a Senate disclosure proposal would violate their free-speech rights.

By Mary Curtius
Times Staff Writer

March 8, 2006

WASHINGTON - A move in the Senate to impose reporting requirements on grass-roots lobbying campaigns faced mounting opposition Tuesday from conservative and liberal groups normally at loggerheads in policy debates.

The opponents include Concerned Women for America, which promotes conservative social causes; the Alliance for Justice, an association of liberal advocacy groups; and the American Civil Liberties Union, which bills itself as a "national guardian" of constitutional liberties.

Officials with these and other groups warn that the Senate proposal would violate their free-speech rights by hobbling their ability to galvanize support for their efforts.

The measure would require the disclosure of money received and spent to organize telephone banks, mass mailings and other campaigns aimed at rallying citizens to express their views to Congress and the White House in key policy debates.

The provision is part of a bill the Senate is debating that would rewrite ethics guidelines and lobbying rules - a bill spurred by recent scandals that have roiled Capitol Hill. The dispute over the disclosure proposal demonstrates the potential legal thickets surrounding the bid to rein in the influence of lobbyists.

The disclosure provision was criticized as "revolting" by Kerri Houston, head of a coalition of conservative groups fighting it.

"Politicians need some cover on this lobbying reform thing, but they are passing it on the backs of the free-speech rights of citizen advocate groups," Houston said. "I guess they think it is easier to shut us up than to totally step on the air hose of money that comes out of the lobbying community" based in Washington.

Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said she agreed with criticism of the proposal from conservatives.

The financial reports that the measure calls for "might well inhibit the ability of Americans to petition their lawmakers," Aron said.

The proposal's supporters insist such disclosures are long overdue, saying that the use by some groups of professional campaign organizers may skew the true picture of public attitudes on a given issue.

"In the past decade, orchestrated, paid-for, so-called grass-roots campaigns have become a stable and integrated part of many big-money lobbying campaigns," Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) said Monday. "There is nothing wrong with this. The question is whether we should ask for minimal disclosure."

Lieberman said limits on the provision would prevent it from stymieing authentic grass-roots expressions of public opinions. Reporting would be required only for lobbying efforts that cost more than $25,000 over a three-month period. Also, this total would not include money a group spent on communications directed at its members, employees or shareholders.

But opponents say that even with these caveats, the measure would have a chilling affect on civic groups.

Houston said she was consistently asked by Senate staff members, " 'How can we tweak this to make it better?' I said: 'You can tweak it till the cows come home and are in the barn, and I'm still going to object to it on 1st Amendment grounds.' "

Faced with such fierce opposition to the proposal from some of the GOP's most active and vocal supporters, some Senate Republicans may move to strip it from the ethics bill.

"I have concerns about that provision; I don't like that provision," Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said Tuesday after a lengthy closed-door Republican strategy session on the overall bill.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leader in the push for the legislation, said he was ambivalent about the reporting requirement for citizen advocacy groups.

"I don't want it to take down the whole legislation," he said.

Other provisions in the bill would require senators and their aides to report any meals or drinks bought for them by lobbyists and to provide more information about trips they took that were paid for by private groups.

The measure also would make it easier for senators to block "earmarks" - funding requests for specific projects or communities that often are added to legislation at the behest of lobbyists.

A proposal to create an independent Office of Public Integrity with authority to initiate ethics investigations of lawmakers was derailed by a key Senate committee last week. But some senators are still trying to build support for including that provision in the bill.

Committees in the House and Senate made up of members of each chamber are responsible for ethics investigations now. Government watchdog groups complain that the panels have proved reluctant to aggressively enforce existing ethical standards. And they say this problem would not be addressed by the rule changes being debated in the Senate or similar reforms the House is expected to consider.

The Senate bill "stinks; it's terrible," said Melanie Sloan, an official with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington-based group. "It offers no enforcement. If all you're going to have is more rules with no enforcement, what's the point?"

McCain, however, defended the legislation.

"Will it be as good as I wanted? Absolutely not," he said. But it would provide "a lot of transparency - a lot of improvements in the way we do business." 

Additional Contact:
Jason Wright
Executive Director
(703) 310-6015

Action Items:

-----1.  Call both your Senators everyday Thursday  through next week to oppose S 2128 because of sections 107, 110, and other restricts on citizens who wish to contact their legislators.  

The bad requirements in S. 2128 will penalize grassroots groups and let big money outfits off the hook.   The big money outfits will gain a huge advantage that will hurt you.   The bill eliminates some restrictions on the Senators themselves. You may both your Senators at (202) 224-3121.  

-----2.  Ask for your Senators fax number and send him a fax.

-----3.  Call at least three other people to get them to call and fax.

Time is urgent.  You must take action immediately.

Please forward this message as widely as possible.  This is urgent.

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