Democracy at the Grassroots

colson2During 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 that 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.  
Take Action
Urge your senators to vote for Senator Bob Bennett’s (R-Utah) amendment to strike section 220—Grassroots Lobbying Disclosure—from the Ethics Reform Bill, S. 1, to protect our free-speech rights and our right to petition our representatives. (See this sample letter from National Right to Life.) The Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121.
Today's BreakPoint Offer
Please help BreakPoint continue its biblical worldview ministry strong in 2007. Donate online today or call 1-877-322-5527.
For Further Reading and Information
Thomas Ferraro, “Ethics, Lobbying Reform Bill Stalls in U.S. Senate,” ABC News, 18 January 2007. Alexander Bolton, “McCain Does About-Face on Grassroots Reform Bill,” The Hill, 18 January 2007. Stephen M. Hoersting, “MLK, Grassroots Lobbyist,” National Review, 15 January 2007. Dee Ann Divis, “Lobbying Reform for Nonprofits Might Be Just Starting to Develop,” Washington Examiner, 17 January 2007. Steven Ertelt, “Pro-Life Groups Concerned Senate Bill Would Stop Pro-Life Lobbying,”, 16 January 2007. Amanda B. Carpenter, “Republicans Target Grassroots Lobbying Provision in Senate Ethics Bill,” Human Events, 16 January 2007. Monisha Bansal, “Lobby Reform Bill Would Stifle Free Speech, Say Advocacy Groups,” CNS News, 16 January 2007. BreakPoint Commentary No. 060113, “Revolution to Revulsion: Ambidextrous Corruption.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 061005, “Trading Votes for Pork: The Ongoing Scandal of Earmarking.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 070105, “Getting Rid of the Pork: Can the Democrats Pull It Off?


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary