Uprooting the Grassroots

Most of us think of a lobbyist as someone who wears alligator shoes and spends his time prowling the halls of Congress, wining and dining lawmakers. But soon you and I could be redefined as lobbyists, too—even if we never get within a hundred miles of the capital. Even if all we do is invite our neighbors to vote. That's what could happen if the Senate passes the Lobbying Disclosure Act Conference Report. This bill was originally intended for a good purpose: to stop lobbyists from giving expensive gifts to congressmen. But buried deep in the bill is what could be described as a grassroots gag order. If this law passes, a member of a citizen group who spends a mere 10 percent of his paid time talking to elected officials would be defined as a lobbyist. Even if he talks only to members of his own group, it will count as lobbying. Citizen groups will be forced to register with a federal bureau of lobbying, to disclose all their expenditures and even turn over their membership lists. Even people who lobby as individuals will be subject to complex lobbying rules. This new federal agency will be headed by a director of lobbying, chosen by the president. Imagine another Roberta Achtenberg or Joycelyn Elders appointed head of the federal lobbying police—someone who'd have the power to fine Christian activists hundreds of thousands of dollars if they trip up over complicated lobbying laws. What a chilling effect this would have on citizens who simply want to have a say in what their own government does. Why did lawmakers turn a bill intended to rein in fat-cat lobbyists into a weapon against small-town citizen groups? To answer that question, we need to understand how tremendously effective grassroots organizers have become—and what a threat Christian activists have become to certain lawmakers more interested in pleasing powerful special interest groups than the voters back home. As Rep. Newt Gingrich told Congress this week, "Liberals hate grassroots voter pressure." After all, it was grassroots efforts—mainly by Christians—that kept the Freedom of Choice Act from becoming law. It was grassroots efforts that kept the Clinton administration from forcing the military to accept open homosexuals. Grassroots lobbying killed the Clinton health care plan. And in perhaps the most spectacular display of their strength, grassroots workers—again, mostly Christians—shot down a measure that would have put homeschoolers out of business. That's the kind of power liberal congressmen have learned to dread. But trying to restrain the right of citizens to speak out isn't just unconstitutional: It's unbiblical. For Christians, our model is based on men like Nathan, who went before King David and challenged his behavior. Or Moses, who stood before Pharaoh and boldly challenged his policy toward the Jews. When modern Christians follow that model, the government should not be allowed to hem them in with complex and intrusive regulations. The Senate plans to vote on this measure today. I urge you to call your own senator immediately. Tell him to vote "no" on Senate Bill 349, the Lobbying Disclosure Act Conference Report . . . before the lobby police come knocking at your door.


Chuck Colson


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