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As Marty Meehan leaves office, he slyly tries to pack one last punch at repressing free speech outside of the lobbying community, where it should be wholly protected

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Marty Meehan’s Parting Shot

As Marty Meehan leaves office, he slyly tries to pack one last punch at repressing free speech outside of the lobbying community, where it should be wholly protected

Nancy Pelosi’s lobbying reform bill will be introduced and marked up the week of May 14, according to reports.  Pelosi campaigned in 2006 pledging to “break the link between lobbyists and legislation.”  Knowing what would really happen, Washington lobbying shops began loading up with Democratic lobbyists November 8, 2006.  K Street still can’t hire Democrats fast enough.

“Reformer” Marty Meehan (D-MA), who’s leaving Congress July 1 to head his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, wants to strike one last blow against conservatives.  His “grassroots” bill, H.R. 2093, won’t be in Pelosi’s initial lobbying bill, but will be introduced as an amendment during committee mark-up.  If passed and signed into law, it will place huge burdens on political speech and thus suppress the rights we are guaranteed under the First Amendment.

The New York Times supports the Meehan bill.  I could stop there, but more needs to be said.

Under H.R. 2093, private communications to and among the general public that somehow “influence” citizens to call or write to even just one federal official or member of Congress would be defined as “lobbying activity.”   Those paid as part of the process would be “lobbying firms” required to register quarterly with Congress, disclose their principals for all to see, and tell Congress the nature of the communications. 

The bill would apply even to communications that aren’t generated by lobbyists, and on behalf of people or grassroots causes who don’t use lobbyists. 

Those who are retained by one or more grassroots causes to spend or receive an aggregate of $100,000 on communications per quarter must register the same as K Street lobbyists.  That trigger could be just one fundraising mailing, or the placement of two issue ads in national newspapers.  It’s not clear whether this dollar threshold applies per “client’ or collectively for all who retain the same person.

There is no limitation on the type of media that would be regulated.  Radio and television broadcasts, books, direct mail, newspaper editorials, the Internet, podcasts, documentaries, theatre, etc. — all of these, individually and collectively, would be counted towards the definitions and thresholds in the bill.

Key terms in H.R. 2093 are mischievously vague.  For example, what communications “influence” citizens to contact Congress to express their will for or against legislation and policies?  Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth?  Fortunately for Gore, he can afford lawyers to advise him.  But the bill gives discretion to Washington bureaucrats to decide which speech is “free,” and which speech must be registered.  Advantage: lawyers.

H.R. 2093 targets expressly what the United States Supreme Court calls “core political speech.”  Liberal Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the First Amendment protections for core political speech are at their “zenith,” and the burden that the government must overcome to justify such laws “is well-nigh insurmountable.”  The Supreme Court has already ruled twice that “lobbying activity” must be construed to mean direct contact with Congress by actual lobbyists.  Communications to, among and from the grassroots are fully protected by the First Amendment.

So what has Marty Meehan and his cabal of insider lobbyists, including his own lawyers, done to try to overcome these constitutional barriers?  Deny, befog and conceal.

Liberal insider-Washington lobbying groups relied on three principal justifications to deceive the public and Congress about the grassroots bill.  They said (1) the bill closes a “Jack Abramoff” loophole under the “Gimme-Five” scandal, (2) it targets what some pejoratively call “Astroturf” lobbying, and (3) it will disclose those who finance grassroots lobbying.  None is true.

Neither Jack Abramoff nor the kickbacks to him under the “Gimme-Five” scandal would have been disclosed under H.R. 2093.  Lobbyists will evade disclosure by charging “finders’” or other types of fees that are not subject to disclosure under HR 2093.  The legislation doesn’t target, and never even attempts to define, “Astroturf.”  Instead, it regulates genuine citizen-supported policy communications.

Corporations, labor unions, billionaires such as George Soros, even foreign governments will be able to finance grassroots communications through front groups and “straw-man” entities, yet the real financiers would not be disclosed.  The straw-man “clients” may be subject to reporting by “lobbying firms.”  However, the real financiers and lobbyists who arrange the financing of those entities would not be disclosed.

So Marty Meehan is protecting the ability of Communist China and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to finance American policy communications, but he would harm the rights of genuine citizen activists. 

An exemption written in to H.R. 2093 allows unlimited expenditure on direct mail if the “primary” purpose is to recruit members for any organization, not just a “client.”  Financing of these direct mail communications by George Soros and corporations would not be disclosed, allowing them to pay to both “influence” citizens to contacts Congress, and recruit members for any organization, even for front organizations their lawyers create.

H.R. 2093 actually works to deceive the general public about who is spending money, and how much is being spent.  Genuine citizen-supported causes, i.e., the conservative movement, will bear the brunt of registration costs, and they will be subject to the prior restraints, penalties and chilling effects of this bill.
 
Roll Call reported on May 2 in response to complaints that Meehan was withholding his bill so outspoken critics wouldn’t see it, that Meehan’s office denied legislative “language existed” before the week of April 23.  Six lobbying groups including Meehan’s own lawyers, however, signed and published a March 7 letter to Congress with a detailed description of, and actual language from, H.R. 2093.  They used insider information to further deceive the public and Congress.

Congress is investigating the firing of U.S. attorneys because Democrats believe Alberto Gonzalez’s subordinates gave Congress the wrong information for political reasons, which Democrats say creates the appearance of impropriety.  Martha Stewart went to jail for not telling the truth that she received insider information. 

Neither of those two examples has the impact on American freedom that the lies used by Meehan’s cabal to violate the Constitution have.  This is a politically, financially motivated scam to violate the Constitution.

My “Christian side” wishes Congressman Meehan well in Lowell.  My lawyer side says he should be called back to answer questions under oath and cross-examination.

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Written By

Mr. Fitzgibbons is President of Corporate and Legal Affairs at American Target Advertising, Inc. in Manassas, VA. and a First Amendment lawyer specializing in grassroots law.

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