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"Stimulating grassroots lobbying" for pay;
The mystery of Bill S. 1 in the 110th Congress

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Sponsored link.

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A bill to control the stimulation of grassroots lobbying:

During mid 2007-JAN, conservative Christian groups such as the Focus on the Family Action, and Family Research Council Action expressed major concern about a bill which was introduced to the Senate earlier that month. It is S. 1, and is called the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007. 1 Both agencies feel that it will seriously impede their main function, which is to disseminate information to the conservative Christian community and urge citizens to communicate their personal opinions to their legislators. They suggest that other conservative Christian agencies, -- like the 700 Club, American Family Association, American Values, the Christian Coalition, Coral Ridge Ministries, etc. -- would presumably also be affected. In fact, any pastor of a congregation with over 500 present at a service might come under the provision of this bill.

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Appeal by Focus on the Family Action:

Focus on the Family Action (a.k.a. Focus Action) E-mailed a message titled "Protect your right to freedom of speech" on the afternoon of JAN-11 to persons on its mailing list. It said that  Section 220 of this bill would seriously disrupt Focus Action's ability to keep their supporters informed of what they consider to be pro-family and anti-family legislation. Further, it would dry up sources of information and thus severely limit an individual's ability to make their opinions known to their own representatives in Congress.

Focus Action wrote that:

"If S.1 passes with these outrageous provisions, communications from Focus Action, known as 'grassroots communications,' will be tied up in miles of new red tape. These bureaucratic restrictions are clearly a concerted effort to insulate legislators from criticism. At the same time, Section 220 will allow labor unions, trade associations and foreign corporations unregulated access to legislators."

"The Senate leadership has fast-tracked this bill in an effort to keep you in the dark. It is crucial for you to voice your concern now, because if Section 220 remains intact, you could be left in the dark on pro-family issues from now on." 2

Focus Action urged its supporters to sign a petition one one of their web sites titled "Protect Your Right to Freedom of Speech." Copies of this petition will be sent to the senators. 3

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Focus on the Family radio program:

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and Family Action dedicated his 2007-JAN-10 radio program to a discussion of this bill. He was joined three presidents of leading fundamentalist Christian advocacy groups: Don Wildmon of American Family Association, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Gary Bauer of American Values.

James Dobson said that:

bulletIf the bill is passed with its present wording, Focus Action would have to track all expenditures in every part of its activity in order to meet reporting requirements.
bulletThe vote on the bill may be held on on JAN-17 or 18.
bulletThey need a million people to object to their legislators in order to prevent the bill's passage.

Others speaking on the program said that:

bulletPastors of large churches who delivered sermons urging the members of their congregation to contact their legislators might fall under this proposed regulation.
bulletThe bill is so amorphous that the true scope of the bill is unclear.
bulletThe bill "... comes down hard on the groups that speak for the little guy."
bulletIf the bill is passed, the public "... many never hear another radio program like this one" in the future. 10

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Appeal by Family Research Council:

On 2007-JAN-11, the Family Research Council (FRC) issued a Washington Update that discussed S. 1 in a report titled: "Keep off the Grassroots." They wrote, in part, that S. 1:

"... would effectively silence grassroots organizations on policy issues. As we reported earlier this week, S.1 would require us to notify Congress about alerts, ads, and editorials, sometimes weeks in advance. Obviously that would make our efforts to inform the grassroots somewhat irrelevant, since we can rarely predict which issues Congress will debate weeks ahead of time--let alone how those debates will fare and what their ramifications will be." 7

FRC also distributed a mass Email on the afternoon of JAN-12. They stated that the bill contains a provision that:

"... seeks to silence groups like the Family Research Council from informing you on the issues. ... This is a move to stop us from informing you about the issues you find important. ...

Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) has introduced an amendment to S. 1 that would strip this abusive language from the bill. The Senator realizes that just as it would be unconstitutional to monitor the press because of their contact with their readers, Congress has no business monitoring the motives of citizens who contact Washington to express their views." 5

This message is posted to the FRC web site as an alert. 8

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About Bill S.1:

The E-mails by Focus Action and Family Research Center seem to indicate that the goals of Section 220 of Bill S.1 are twofold:

  1. To "stop" conservative Christian "pro-family" information agencies from from communicating to the general public by so snarling them in red tape that they could not function.
  2. To restrict agency speech and thus keep the general public "in the dark" about important developments impacting the family.

Both of these goals would clearly be unconstitutional because the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The "freedom of speech" clause would clearly make the both goals unconstitutional. The "petition the government" clause might make the second goal unconstitutional as well.

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What Section 220 actually says:

The title of Section 220 is: "Disclosure of paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying." [Emphasis ours].

Section 220 defines "Grassroots lobbying" as one would expect: individuals discussing their own views on an issue directly with Federal officials -- often their representative or senator. It also involves individuals encouraging other people to contact their officials and to do the same. 6

It is obvious that Family Action and the FRC commit much of their effort via radio, mass distribution of Emails, and other communication techniques to urge people to conduct "grassroots lobbying," and to motivate people to encourage others to conduct "grassroots lobbying" on their own. These conservative Christian groups engage extensively in "efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying." In fact, it is arguably their prime function.

However, Section 220's title indicates that it is only paid "efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" that would regulated by this bill. It appears that the bill would concern a group like the FRC only if it were actually hired by some person or group and paid by them to "stimulate grassroots lobbying" on a specific topic.

Section 220 describes "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" as involving a client who pays lobbyists to encourage 500 or more members of the general public to express their views to officials in the federal government's legislative or executive branch or Congress as a whole. The definition, expressed in full legalese, is available online. 1

Thus, the section only appears to apply if a lobbying firm is being paid by others to manipulate public opinion and to motivate large numbers of people to contact government officials about something. Such a lobbying firm would be required to:

bulletRegister with the government. The bill states that:

"Not later than 45 days after a grassroots lobbying firm first is retained by a client to engage in paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying, such grassroots lobbying firm shall register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives." [Emphasis ours]

bulletEstimate their income and expenses involved with lobbying efforts on a quarterly basis. This does not have to be an accurate estimate. If it is less than $25,000, the lobbying firm would only have to say that it was less than $25,000. If it is more than $25,000, it can be rounded off to the nearest $20,000. Thus, the accounting load on the lobbying firm should be minimal.

So, as far as a conservative Christian advocacy agency is concerned, it appears that:

bulletSection 220 of Bill S.1 would seem to apply only in the special case where the agency was being paid by somebody or some group to manipulate public opinion in the hope that many members of the public would contact government officials.
bulletThe bill would not impede the freedom of speech of any religious agency -- whether it was acting on its own initiative, or had been hired by a client as lobbyists to promote a cause in exchange for money. They could advocate support for what they considered a "pro-family" bill, or advocate opposition for an "anti-family" bill to their hearts' content.
bulletThe bill would not impede any member of the public from learning about any family issue.
bulletThe bill would not impede people's freedom to contact any government official about anything.

So we are faced with a mystery. Section 220 of Bill S. 1 would only kick for an agency like Focus Action in the event that they were being paid by somebody or some company to manipulate the public's opinion and actions.

We are unaware of any conservative Christian agency that works in this way. We have always assumed that when one of these agencies advocates for or against a bill that would affect the family, they are acting on on the basis of their own cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs. That is, they are not being paid by some other person or group to manipulate the public. Perhaps these agencies are concerned that if the bill is passed, it might open the door to future legislation that would actually regulate their activity. Or perhaps they want to be able to engage in "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" on behalf of some funding source that hires them, and don't want the additional administrative responsibilities that S. 1 would require.

Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) has introduced an amendment to S. 1 that would remove this provision from the bill. On JAN-13, we were unable to find any information about his amendment or about S. 1 on his website. 9

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Debate in the Senate:

On 2006-JAN-17, Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) argued in favor of Amendment 20 to Bill S. 1 which would eliminate Section 220. He quoted from letters by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Right to Life Committee who both oppose the provision. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) defended the section. 11

The Senate passed the amendment, removing the requirement that Focus Action and other groups report to the government when they are hired by an outside funding source to manipulate public opinion on behalf of that source.

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Action in the House:

CitizenLink, a service of Focus on the Family, issued an alert on 2007-FEB-15 warning that lobbying reform legislation is headed for the House of Representatives, and that the special provision for paid lobbyists, including non-profit groups -- may be reinstated in the bill. Amanda Banks, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said:

"We are anticipating that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will most likely introduce another lobbying-reform bill that will include the grassroots-lobbying provision. But it's a wait-and-see game at this point." 12

Dr. Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, said:

"We keep having to fight the same battles over and over again because some of those on the left just will not take 'No' for an answer. We sent a resounding message to the Senate saying that we have a right to tell our lawmakers what we think and what's important to us, yet it looks like we're going to have to fight this battle one more time." 12

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "S1: To provide greater transparency in the legislative process," at: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: It is also available in HTML format at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
  2. "Protect your right to freedom of speech," Email, Focus on the Family, 2007-JAN-11.
  3. "Protect Your Right to Freedom of Speech" petition is at: http://focuspetitions.com/
  4. An audio recording of the program "Speaking UP for Speaking Out" can be heard at: http://www.oneplace.com/
  5. U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, Utah," at: http://bennett.senate.gov/
  6. "Tell Congress you will not be quiet!!, Email, Family Research Council, 2007-JAN-12
  7. "ALERTS: Tell Congress you will not be quiet, Family Research Council, 2007-JAN-12 at: http://www.frc.org/
  8. Section 220 is near the top of Page 31 of the text of S. 1.
  9. U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, Utah," at: http://bennett.senate.gov/
  10. Sam Kastensmidt, "Senate Measure to Muzzle Grassroots Organizations," Good News Daily, 2007-JAN, at: http://www.goodnewsdaily.net/
  11. "Senate Debates Controversial Free-Speech-Limiting Provision," CitizenLink daily update, 2007-JAN-17.
  12. Pete Winn, "Battle Over Grassroots Lobbying headed to House," CitizenLink, 2007-FEB-15, at: http://www.citizenlink.org/

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Site navigation: Home page > Religious laws > here

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Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-JAN-13
Latest update: 2007-FEB-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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