In Defense of Free Speech

No matter where you are in the political spectrum you should defend our precious liberty to speak our mind. Kerri Houston has formed a new coalition called “Lobbysense” to do just that. Here is their statement of principles:

From the birth of the American experience, citizen expression has been the heart of political discourse.
The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the rights of free speech and the right to “petition the government.” Armed with ingenuity, passion and recognition of the power inherent in a collective voice, the American public developed a wide range of grassroots and public policy organizations, large and small, structured and ad hoc, that provide them with an outlet to communicate a cohesive message to their elected officials.
With the national spotlight focused on illegal and abhorrent behavior demonstrated in the Abramoff lobbying “scandal,” our national conscience is ignited, in turn providing an opportunity to target systemic problems that allowed abuse of the system by a few offenders.
Conversely, Congress could overreach politically, and unnecessarily diminish the rights of the many for misguided public image purposes.
As Congress moves under public pressure to swiftly enact “lobby” reform, we believe that catastrophic overreach is taking form in S. 2128/H.R. 4575, The Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2005, sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT).
Section 105 of this legislation would censure the citizen voice and significantly reduce the ability of grassroots organizations to continue to express and promote the peoples’ will.
The current lobbying scandal was not caused by grassroots nor public policy organizations either liberal, moderate or conservative, yet the harshest restrictions in this bill’s “lobby” reform target issue advocates and public policy educators.
Existing law was broken and then enforced; already those complicit in the lawbreaking face jail time and significant fines, and in time, more lawbreakers may be subject to the rule of law. As congressional staffers and corporate lobbyists are at the heart of the current scandal, it is incomprehensible that non-profit organizations, their supporters and members who carry concern for the nation into action, would be targeted for punishment for a scheme for which they had no complicity.
The overly broad provisions of The Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2005 will impose millions of dollars of regulatory costs, and adversely harm individuals and groups in their efforts to influence and affect public decisions.
The legislation defines grassroots lobbying as any attempt to influence the public, or to engage in lobbying contacts in support of a view or position. Under the terms of both bills grassroots lobbying would even include companies and organizations working in support of grassroots lobbying, such as researchers and consulting services involved in preparing information on issues and views.
Legions of citizen organizations, small businesses, and even individuals would become subject to onerous registration and reporting requirements, simply because they were trying to motivate the public to support a position or point of view.
The conscience of the American will, grassroots lobbying has been used by concerned U.S. citizens through the course of our history to assist in shaping public policy. Rev. Martin Luther King’s efforts to stimulate a grassroots movement in the early and mid-1960’s were instrumental in securing passage of legislation to secure the protections of all U.S. citizens regardless of race. Under the terms of s. 2128, and H.R. 4575, Rev. King would have been greatly hampered in his efforts to effectuate social change.
More recently, grassroots efforts have been heavily employed in efforts by organizations to express their views both in favor of and against then Supreme Court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Grassroots on both sides of issues such as abortion, tax reform and the environment have stimulated public policy to advocate, educate and inform.
America’s “grassroots” are not inert plant life; they are people, citizens, voters. Grassroots activity is an integral part of the American fabric of freedom.
Although first proposing S. 2128, Senator McCain has reconsidered his position of grassroots restrictions in this bill. However, many Senators on the Government Reform Committee which has jurisdiction over this legislation such as Senators Lott (R-MO), Collins (R-ME), Lieberman (D-CT) and Feingold (D-WI) still believe that citizen restraints are a necessary part of lobby reform.
We hope that Members of Congress intent on a grassroots component will review their copy of the Constitution, meet with their constituents and then target reforms that bring transparency to lobbying money sent to Congress, embrace efforts to restrain the spending that lays at the heart of corruption, and enforce and strengthen penalties for those actually breaking ethics and lobbying laws.

Thanks, Kerri.