News cycles and blogospheres are abuzz about private-sector lobbying and how Congress plans to stem corruption in corporate lobbying, also known “inside the Beltway” as “K Street” lobbying. Last Thursday the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs approved legislation aimed at cleaning up some unethical connections between a handful of deep-pocketed lobbyists and bought-off members of Congress.
The bill, the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act (S. 2128) now contains an amendment that stands to affect not just the private-sector lobbying world, but all concerned activists across the country. Though we fought for a different outcome, the Committee voted 10 to 6 to attach an amendment proposed by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D.-Conn.) and Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) to regulate grassroots lobbying.
Most of the pro-family movement and other nonprofits should not be a part of this equation, but we have been swept up into the reform frenzy. Strangely enough, it reminds of an experience I had long before I ever moved to Washington, D.C.
In high school, I studied abroad in Australia. On the trip, nearly every student broke our school’s honor code and sneaked out to enjoy the night life “down under.” Upon return to the States, the Academy I attended immediately expelled all 16 of them. I can still remember how painful it was to testify against them before the honor council. However, as one of the few who had remained in my room past curfew, I was required to tell what I knew. Honesty was a part of the code as well.
A year later I again traveled overseas, this time to study in France. All study-abroad participants were forced to endure the consequences from the Australia disaster. Every evening, we were literally taped into our rooms. The next morning, if anyone’s tape was broken, we would be immediately sent home — no questions asked.
As a teen, I struggled with being punished for my friends’ mistakes. How was it fair when I had broken no rules? It was frustrating, hurtful and humiliating.
Years later, I find myself in a similar situation. Granted, I’m not being taped into my room, but it seems Congress is doing something cruelly analogous. This time, I’m battling the legacy of corruption left behind by Jack Abramoff. The difference? I never knew Mr. Abramoff. I have never lobbied or even rubbed shoulders with him. In fact, I am not even a K Street lobbyist.
I’m a proud member of the pro-family, pro-life grassroots movement.
We seek to serve our Lord first and our members second. Period. We have no gimmicks, only our deep and abiding passion in what we believe. We lobby Congress accordingly.
While we have never engaged in unethical lobbying, Concerned Women for America (CWA) and other nonprofits are facing increased regulations should the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act ever be signed into law.
Under this legislation, Congress defines grassroots lobbying as any attempt to influence the public to engage in lobbying contacts in support of a view or position. Moreover, they will define any person or entity who receives compensation for engaging in grassroots lobbying, such as researchers and consulting services who prepare information on issues, to register and disclose all related income.
The proposed restrictions would impose corporate-style restraints on grassroots organizations. In other words, no more “kitchen-table activism,” home-grown activism that has developed into many of our country’s strongest organizations, including CWA. These overly broad provisions will impose millions of regulatory costs and adversely harm individuals and groups in their efforts to influence the public to speak out and act about issues of concern.
S. 2128 would also require organizations to notify some unknown federal entity within specified days before launching certain grassroots campaigns. Many times we are notified mere days, or even hours, before an issue important to CWA’s members reaches the floor for a vote. If we had to stop, file paperwork, and allow the required time to pass, more than likely we would lose an opportunity to act.
The bill would also strip privacy protection from donating members of grassroots organizations. Concerned citizens contribute because they have a personal stake in that organization’s purpose, and protecting their privacy is key. In addition, these onerous requirements violate constitutional rights such as the right to assemble.
How could Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream have been realized if these types of restrictions existed decades ago? Dr. King’s grassroots movement was essential to passing laws to ensure the protections of all U.S. citizens, regardless of race. Under many of these proposed reforms, Dr. King would have been a registered grassroots lobbyist, forced to log and disclose any sort of contribution to his efforts.
I serve with a team of passionate women and men on the staff of the largest public policy women’s organization in the country. We hold nonprofit status. We lobby not for the betterment of our pocketbook, but for the betterment of our country. Our desire is to see this great nation return to the bedrock moral values of our Founding Fathers. We have no connection to expansive expense accounts, NBA box seats, direct dial numbers to members of Congress, or to Abramoff. Yet we may soon carry the heavy burden of his substantial mistakes.
In truth, grassroots groups like CWA are the solution to the lobbying scandal, not the problem. We lobby Congress the way it should be done — with public involvement in the issues.
Indeed, we ask Congress to consider how grassroots-lobby campaigns contrast to the K Street scandals. Citizen lobbyists are motivated by their beliefs, not a personal power grab. Current proposed grassroots “reform” could threaten the very existence of effective grassroots organizations, liberal and conservative. We urge Capitol Hill to consider the consequences.
As a student I learned that the consequences of sin have a far-reaching effect. As an adult I see the ripples from a K Street scandal making their way to the kitchen tables of citizen activists. Calm the waters, dear senators, and don’t punish the grassroots for a crime we didn’t commit. Leave the grassroots out of private-sector lobby reform.