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January 17, 2007

Civil Rights & Grassroots Lobbying

The Senate could vote today, tomorrow, or Friday on the new grassroots lobbying regulations (Section 220 of S. 1).

As we’ve explained before, these regulations will create a new, expensive burden for — in order to limit your ability to corrupt Congress.

Yes, you are responsible for Congressional corruption by involving yourself with an organization like Bet you didn’t know that.

We’re supporting Senator Bennett’s Amendment 20, which would remove the regulations of Section 220, which deal specifically with grassroots groups like

Winning this vote in the Senate is important because it will set the tone for the House of Representatives. And if we defeat Section 220 in the Senate, we’re half-way to victory.

But there’s potential bad news to report. This morning I learned that not one single Democrat has publicly announced their support for Amendment 20. There also appears to be several Republican fence-sitters. Yet the vote at this point could possibly be as close as 50-49! Only the following Senators have announced their firm support for the amendment by co-sponsoring it . . .

Jon Kyl, Arizona
Mitch McConnell, Kentucky
David Vitter, Louisiana
James Inhofe, Oklahoma
Tom Coburn, Oklahoma
John Thune, South Dakota
John Cornyn, Texas
Robert Bennett, Utah

EVERY OTHER SENATOR NEEDS TO GET LOTS OF PHONE CALLS. Once you’re logged-in to send a message at, you are provided with numbers to call or fax each of your Senator’s offices. Call. Leave a message. Urge them to, “co-sponsor and vote for Bennett’s Amendment 20 to protect the grassroots.” Ask the person who answers the phone if they know how the Senator will vote, and if they answer, please let us know at

You can send a written message (which we urge you to do at a minimum) and get your Senators’ phone numbers by CLICKING HERE.

Today, we also want to share an essay with you. It was published by National Review Online. But please ignore the “conservative” source, because the essay’s real target, and the reason we’re passing it on to you, is that support from liberals, progressives, and other Democrats has been absent — EVEN THOUGH THESE PROVISIONS WILL HARM THEM TOO.

For three weeks we’ve asked ourselves, how do we reach “liberals” on this issue? We’ve done a number of things, and 10 days or so ago, I thought we had a major Democratic organization about to join us. But instead, partisan tribalism reigns supreme. This was illustrated yet again on an online bulletin board called the DemocraticUnderground when a poster wrote, “Could affect us too, but it’s more damaging to them…so I’m for it.”

So much for the Defenders of the First Amendment!

That discussion over at DemocraticUnderground was about regulating James Dobson, and if Dobson is for something, the DemocraticUnderground thinks they have to be against it, no matter what. Sad. But the article below puts it terms everyone, especially Democrats, can understand — but only if they’re open-minded to the reality of the situation. As a famous study demonstrated, partisanship does effect, negatively, cognitive function.

So here’s a final ACTION ITEM for those who want to do all they can. Please cut & paste the article below and send it to your friends. Don’t merely forward this entire message. They only need the article below. Encourage your friends to join you in taking action against these terrible new regulations.


MLK, Grassroots Lobbyist
Imagine if Jim Crow states could have known the names of the people in the organizations working with Martin Luther King Jr.

By Stephen M. Hoersting

Forty-three years ago, civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. declared his dream to 250,000 marchers and a national television audience: an America without racial segregation.

King recognized that a decades-long grassroots campaign of nonviolent protest, culminating in the 1963 March on Washington, might bring his dream into reality. That grassroots effort, and the media campaign surrounding it, was the most successful in American history, and led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Its easy to look back fondly now on the March on Washington as a spontaneous gathering on a subject no one could oppose. But the event was planned for years, with a first attempt jettisoned in 1941 by the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, one of the Big Six civil-rights organizations that planned the 1963 March. We forget about the freedom trains and freedom buses that brought marchers to Washington from all parts of the United States, and pass easily over the planning and financing that were necessary to bring the march together.

We can forget that many powerful forces did oppose the civil rights movement; Jim Crow was the law of the land in many southern states. And we can forget that King led Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of Jim Crow in the mid 1950s, for which he had his house bombed and also was arrested. We forget that the FBI wiretapped King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1961 to determine whether he was mixed up with the Communists, and when that FBI rationale evaporated, it still used incidental details caught on tape in an attempt to force him out of the leadership of the organization.

We cannot forget that King was out front on an issue of national importance. We cannot forget his fate, and that it was a tragedy. In such an environment, we might wonder how secure would be his backers and consultants if the Big Six had to register with the government, disclose their spending, and report the names of the consultants brave enough to help them.

This is now a pertinent question as the Senate takes up grassroots-lobbying provisions in the ethics and lobbying-reform bill. One provision would amend the definition of lobbying activities to include paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying directed at more than 500 members of the general public. There is a low-dollar registration exemption that applies to direct lobbyists, but it appears the bill would regulate low-dollar communications by nonprofits, corporations, and other organizations by specifically making their paid grassroots communications ineligible for the registration exemptions. There is a $25,000 threshold for what the bill (creates and) calls a grassroots lobbying firm, but it is unclear whether the quarterly threshold would apply to nonprofits, individuals, and other small causes, including bloggers. Even if it did, $25,000 is less than the cost of placing one ad in the New York Times national edition, and less than what many nonprofits pay quarterly for direct mail.

Proponents of this reform call the activity they wish to regulate Astroturf lobbying to imply that the public outcry from such campaigns is somehow fake, manufactured, or unrepresentative of citizen sentiment, because it is corporations and other advocates who alert citizens to the issue and encourage citizen involvement. But all grassroots lobbying campaigns are organic, in that they tap true concerns of real citizens. Whatever stimulates a citizen to speak out or get involved, once he is involved he speaks for reasons of his own, and speaks directly to his elected representatives. This is precisely the point of participatory democracy in a republican form of government. As noted by political analyst Ron Faucheux, Critics who decry the artificiality of grassroots campaigns and disparage the manufacturing of public sentiment by well-heeled corporations and interest groups miss one point: grassroots lobbying is a valid way to increase public awareness and participation in the governmental process.

Grassroots-lobbying disclosure appears to put two canons of political law on an apparent collision course: that government corruption is cured by disclosure; and that the right of individuals to speak and associate freely depends upon their ability to do so anonymously. But the conflict is a false one because both canons achieve the same purpose when each is applied to its proper context; both protect citizens from abusive officeholders. Disclosure regimes for campaign contributions and direct lobbying protect citizens from officeholders who can confer benefits on large contributors (and pain on opponents) by passing future legislation. Regimes that protect the right to speak anonymously with fellow citizens about issues, even issues of official action or pending legislation, also protect citizens from abusive officeholders by reducing an officeholders ability to visit retribution on those who would oppose his policy preferences.

And there is no doubt that the danger of retribution by politicians is real. It is not hard to imagine, for example, why one Jim Crow state might have wanted to know the names of all NAACP members in 1950s Alabama, and why the Supreme Court said in response to Alabama’s desire to learn those names that [i]t is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as [other] forms of governmental action. It is also easy to imagine the leverage Alabama could have put on the NAACP and the rest of the Big Six civil-rights groups if 1950s Alabama knew about the NAACP what the twenty-first century Congress proposes to learn about grassroots organizations.

It is easy to kid ourselves that there will never be a cause so divisive and deserving as racial equality that disclosure could now impede its progress. But we cannot know this with certainty, and, if the past is to be our guide, it seems that there surely will be such an issue in the future. That it is why it is important to remember Martin Luther King Jr., the civil-rights struggle, and the 1963 March on Washington, when we are considering measures that may frighten tomorrow’s skilled consultants away from tomorrow’s unpopular causes.  

Article provided by permission of Steve Hoersting, Executive Director, Center for Competitive Politics.

Folks, please take action to protect grassroots organizers from new, expensive, heavy-handed red tape that will choke new, small, and upstart groups. Please help us block this terrible bill which confers real advantages to major corporations, unions, and huge membership organizations over smaller, voluntary, grassroots organizations.

Please forward the above article to friends. You could also fax it to your Senators. At the very least, please send a message telling your Senators to remove the grassroots provisions from the bill. You can do so HERE.

Thank you for taking action,

Jim Babka
President, Inc. 

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