by Steven Ertelt
May 14, 2007
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Leading pro-life groups are renewing their call for supporters to contact their elected officials about a provision in a lobbying reform bill that would hurt their ability to keep citizens informed about important pro-life topics on Capitol Hill. They say abortion advocates would benefit if the provision is approved.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, would establish, for the first time, federal regulatory authority over efforts aimed at motivating citizens to communicate with their elected representatives about bills pending in Congress.
Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, says his amendment targets grassroots lobbying but pro-life organizations say it would hurt their efforts to tell private citizens about what is occurring in Congress.
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote tomorrow on the provision and the full House will vote next week.
Several pro-life groups are asking their members to contact Congress and urge a no vote on the Meehan amendment.
Douglas Johnson, the legislative director of National Right to Life, talked with LifeNews.com about the Meehan amendment and its problems.
"The Meehan Amendment is part of a broader, ongoing campaign by some liberal special-interest groups to regulate and ultimately choke off the action alerts that keep ordinary citizens informed about bills moving in Congress," he explained.
"These liberal groups believe that they can advance their policy agendas more effectively — and this includes the pro-abortion agenda — if members of Congress were not so influenced by all the messages they receive from those pesky constituents, who the liberal groups want to redefine as ‘lobbyists,’" Johnson added.
The pro-life activist told LifeNews.com that National Right to Life believes that the government should keep its hands off communications from private groups to the general public about what is going on in Congress.
The groups backing the Meehan Amendment assert that the measure would require merely “disclosure” of “huge undisclosed amounts” spent to get members of the public to “lobby Congress.”
Yet, according to statements National Right to Life and the Family Research Council sent LifeNews.com, the reality is that the Meehan Amendment would force countless individual Americans and groups to register and report as “lobbying firms."
That’s a requirement if they “influence” fellow citizens to contact Congress or officials of the executive branch on policy matters.
This isn’t the first time Congress has waded into the debate as the Senate previously rejected an attempt to regulate “grassroots lobbying” in January, voting 55-43 to strip the “grassroots lobbying” provision from a bill after numerous pro-life groups objected.
NRLC says the Meehan amendment is worse than the provision in the Senate bill because it contains "even more sweeping" language on who is subject to the restrictions and requirements.
The group said that someone who spends as little as $100,000 to encourage others to contact Congress about pending issues, such as pro-life votes, can risk fines of $200,000 per violation or 10 years in prison.
"If enacted, it will chill free speech by citizen activists and other voices on the issues of the day, and become a textbook example of the Law of Unintended Consequences," Johnson said.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council agrees and told LifeNews.com that the Meehan amendment is "designed to discourage voters from voicing their values."
He said that, under the amendment, churches, public policy organizations like FRC, and even political parties could be considered "lobbying firms" and subject to the penalties and restrictions in the bill.
"This would jeopardize the ability of groups to reach their supporters about important issues, which ultimately diminishes the right of the people to hear the truth about Congress and hold leaders accountable," Perkins explained.
He concluded that "if America is to have government by the people, then the right of the people to be informed must be protected."
The full House of Representatives is expected to act on the "lobbying reform" bill (S. 1) on Tuesday, May 22.
Depending on what happens in the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, the full House may also vote on whether to include the Meehan provision in the bill.
Johnson said his group is providing an easy tool on its web site that will use your zip code to find your member of Congress and suggest an appropriate phone message for you to work from when you call his or her office.
ACTION: Click here to use the NRLC web site to help you contact Congress in opposition to the Meehan amendment. You can also contact your House member at 202-224-3121 and urge opposition to the Meehan amendment on lobbying reform.