Senate Adopts Amendment Stopping Pro-Life Lobbying Restrictions
by Steven Ertelt
January 19, 2007
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Pro-life groups are delighted with a Senate vote on Thursday that removed the concerns they had about a bill that would have made it difficult for them and others to lobby members of Congress on pro-life issues. The measure, before the amendment, would have imposed strict reporting requirements.
The restrictions would have been in place for any group conducting the smallest amount of lobbying and local pro-life advocates who didn’t comply properly would face fines and jail sentences for noncompliance.
The groups, including National Right to Life, Family Research Council, American Family Association, and others, were worried about bill S. 1.
However, the Senate voted 55-43 for an amendment offered by pro-life Senator Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican, to strip the so-called "grassroots lobbying" provision (Section 220) from the ethics reform bill.
The provisions it fixed were so onerous that even the pro-abortion American Civil Liberties Union sided with pro-life groups in opposition to them.
Leaders of the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives are expected to soon propose their own version of an omnibus "ethics" bill, which is also expected to contain the same problematic language, according to a National Right to Life statement LifeNews.com obtained.
Pro-life advocates will likely seek an amendment on the House side as well.
Under Senate bill before the Bennett amendment was adopted, anyone who is paid by any organization that encourages more than 500 people to contact Congress on any matter or anyone who has called a Congressional office more than two times urging a vote on legislation must register as a lobbyist.
Also, any paid individual who spends more than $25,000 in a three-month period on "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" would also be required to register and report expenditures as a "grassroots lobbying firm."
While the bill purports to reform special interest lobbying, the pro-life groups say it would put significant and complex hurdles in front of smaller, local groups.
Any pro-life advocate who runs afoul of the complex requirements of Section 220 of the bill could be subjected to crushing civil penalties, raised from $50,000 to $200,000 per infraction. Punishment could also include as much as up to 10 years in prison.
"The net effect would be to chill activities that are essential to the healthy functioning of a representative system of government," National Right to Life wrote in a letter to senators backing the Bennett amendment.
"If this provision is enacted, many ordinary citizens will get less and less information from pro-life groups and other issue-oriented organizations about what is going on in Congress," the pro-life group said.
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, agreed the bill needed the amendment.
"This is a move to stop us from informing you about the issues you find important," he said.
"We don’t oppose legitimate proposals to address unethical actions by Members of Congress, congressional staff and lobbyists," Perkins explained.
"But nothing in those misdeeds provides any justification whatever for the idea that Congress should regulate the constitutionally protected efforts of groups such as ours to alert citizens regarding legislative developments in Congress," he added.