Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Are you a Lobbyist?

Posted by Ed C on Thursday, January 18, 2007

The US Senate is trying to craft new “ethics regulations” that in part will effect “Grass-roots” orginizations. From the Washington Times:

The ethics bill before the Senate not only cracks down on lawmakers, but also subjects politically active ministers and neighborhood groups to the same rules as K Street lobbyists.

Under the legislation, grass-roots organizations that attempt to “influence the general public” to contact members of Congress would have to register as lobbyists and file financial reports — or face a $200,000 fine. The requirements could apply to a preacher who goes on TV or radio and tells listeners to call their congressman in support of a particular issue, such as a constitutional amendment against homosexual “marriage.”

The bill is opposed by a wide variety of organizations from the right and the left. But don’t worry, the unions get an exemption:

The grass-roots provision would exempt unions and other organizations that attempt to influence only their members, shareholders and employees. It also would apply only to groups that collect or spend more than $25,000 in three months.

Does this mean that unions that support provisions such as the “Wal-Mart” bill, place signs in support of candidates at polls and provide other support to canidates and political parties would still be required to register? What’s good for the “evil lobbyist” should apply equally to the “good activist.”

It would be nice to be able to find out who is providing support to groups when they advocate on an issue. When someone airs an ad and the tag line is something like “The organization for fairness and everything good” having a transparent way to to find out where the funds came from would be a step in the right direction. The balance will be to assure that everyone has their constitutional rights protected and that the reporting requirements don’t become so burdensome that such activities become effectively prohibited.

In the same legislation, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) has also offered the “Ried Amendment” from Robert Novak:

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the proposal is called the “Reid amendment” because he inadvertently inspired it. Coburn would tighten loose anti-earmark restrictions in the ethics bill by prohibiting senators from requesting earmarks that financially benefit a senator, an immediate family member of a senator or a family member of a senator’s staffer.

The proposal follows the revelation that Reid’s four sons and his daughter’s husband all have been lawyers or lobbyists for special interests. While Reid has declared they are barred from lobbying for their clients in his office, there is little doubt they have taken advantage of their close proximity to a powerful senator.

Can’t wait to see how this plays out.

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2 Responses to “Are you a Lobbyist?”

  1. Bruce said

    I don’t see this surviving constitutional muster. You have to register in order to tell Americans to contact their Congressman? Free speech, assembly and right of petition the government are all shot bloody by this. What a bunch of criminal cowards, as if the problem were the citizenry rather than their own willingness to prostitute themselves worse than any Vegas bar-side sex worker.

  2. cindy vaillancourt said

    As usual, the devil is in the details.

    I don’t think groups who do their fund raising under the guise of unions and religion – then use those funds for political purposes – should be able to take advantage of exemptions for religion etc for that portion of their operation which is clearly political.

    In fact – once a certain threshold of political activity within an organization operating as a non-political entity is passed —- I think it would be reasonab;e to review their special/exempt status.

    For example – organizations which take advantage of tax exempt status on the basis of religion, but expend more than some pre-determined percentage of their funding on political action, lobbying, etc – (say 25%) might lose their special status.

    In order to determine whether an organization is fundamentally a political action committee – lobbyist – or legitimately exempt organization – some records would have to be kept and thresholds determined.

    In short — I believe some groups masquerade as protected or exempt entities with the intent to bypass reporting and limitation rules — and some groups which may have originally been legitimately entitled to exempt status have evolved into significantly political – non-exempt – organizations.

    Some reform in that area is called for — though I suspect in the end it will result in the perversion of the rights to freedom of speech and association while leaving the large, well organized and heavily funded major offenders to continue their inappropriate (fraudulant even) intermingling of activities.

    Cindy Vaillancourt

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