Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.”     Milton Friedman

May 14, 2007

Beyond McCain-Feingold: Democrats to Regulate Grass Roots Lobbying Efforts

by Stephen Littau

John Fund’s Opinion Journal article exposes the Democrats latest attempts to go even further than the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

[T]he Democrats are frantically trying to pass legislation before Memorial Day. First on the agenda is a bill restricting lobbying, which is heading for the House floor with lightning speed. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to pass it tomorrow, sending it to the full House for a final vote next Tuesday or Wednesday.

When a bill moves that quickly, you can bet an someone will try to make some last-minute mischief. Hardly anyone objects to the legislation’s requirement that former lawmakers wait two years instead of one before lobbying Congress. Ditto with bans on lobbying by congressional spouses and restrictions on sitting members of Congress negotiating contracts with private entities for future employment.

I have to agree with Mr. Fund on that. When a bill races through congress this quickly, chances are its bad news. Let’s call this “exhibit A” for the Read the Bills Act (RTBA). The article continues:

But the legislation may be amended on the floor to restrict grassroots groups that encourage citizens to contact members of Congress. The amendment, pushed by Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, would require groups that organize such grassroots campaigns to register as “lobbyists” and file detailed quarterly reports on their donors and activities. The law would apply to any group that took in at least $100,000 in any given quarter for “paid communications campaigns” aimed at mobilizing the public.

What? The Democrats, the ones who claim that they support the First Amendment, want to regulate organizations which encourage ordinary citizens to write, e-mail, call, or fax their representatives in congress? I’m socked! This must be the “new direction” the Democrats were telling us about.

Among the groups that believe the Meehan proposal would trample on the First Amendment are the National Right to Life Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union. The idea goes too far even for Sen. John McCain, who voted to strip a similar provision from a Senate lobbying reform bill last January.

Surly Sen. McCain wasn’t really foolish enough to believe that his campaign finance bill would be the end of the restrictions of the First Amendment, was he? We now find ourselves on this slippery slope of censorship, where will it stop? Could the Robert’s Supreme Court reverse this disturbing trend?

The Supreme Court is set to rule next month on a case addressing precisely that issue, and Justice Samuel Alito may be more inclined to view McCain-Feingold skeptically than was Sandra Day O’Connor, who was part of a 5-4 majority upholding the law.

Wouldn’t that be novel: the Supreme Court upholding the U.S. Constitution while our elected officials refuse to fulfill their oaths.

Hat tip: Boortz

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