Lobby Reform Bill Would Stifle Free Speech, Say Advocacy Groups

If you have not called your Senator to oppose the “Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007”, then you need to do so today. Do not let this bill pass.

CNSNews.com) – Railing against the lobbying reform bill scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, several conservative groups say the bill will stifle the free speech rights of grassroots organizations.

A similar bill was introduced last year but did not pass. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reintroduced the legislation on Jan. 8.

“Now that the new Congress is underway, we need to get down to business and show Americans that we are responding to their call for change,” said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), who introduced the 2006 bill.

“We now have the opportunity to give the American people what they deserve and demanded in November – real ethics and lobbying reform that holds their elected officials to the highest ethical standards,” he said.

But many take issue with section 220 of the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, which requires “disclosure of paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying.”

“Section 220 is a direct assault on the first amendment and the right of citizens to freely petition their government for a redress of grievances,” said Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, in a statement.

“This legislation will place onerous reporting requirements on individuals and organizations that lobby our national leaders on issues of importance to them. And, it will impose draconian fines – including potential criminal penalties – for failure to obey these new lobby restrictions,” Sheldon added.

He noted that the bill would “target any organization with more than 500 supporters or if a communication reaches 500 or more individuals. Those affected include every blogger, every church, every non-profit or any group that uses direct mail, telephone calls, newspaper or print ads, paid organizers, radio and TV ads and Internet communications.”

According to Sheldon, the reporting requirements would place “incredible financial and time burdens on grassroots groups.”

“This cleverly-written section doesn’t directly assault free speech, but it creates a climate of fear that chills free speech,” he said. “The curious thing about this legislation is that it exempts labor unions, corporations and even foreign companies from these reporting requirements. Yet, these are the entities that are most likely to engage in unethical lobbying activities – not small grassroots groups.”

According to the conservative advocacy group, the Free Speech Coalition, the bill “would target and restrict the First Amendment rights of citizens on an unprecedented and needless basis.”

“There is no correlation between the fundamental rights being targeted by this and similar bills and the real ethics and corruption problems in Washington,” the group said, adding that the bill “would only further corruption, not reduce it.”

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