by Steven Ertelt
June 3, 2007
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Pro-life groups are celebrating the defeat of an amendment to a lobbying reform bill that would limit their free speech rights and those of their members. They said the amendment targeted would have hurt their efforts to tell private citizens about what is occurring in Congress.
Rep. Marty Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, says his amendment targets grassroots lobbying and its supporters asserted that the measure would require merely “disclosure” of “huge undisclosed amounts” spent to get members of the public to “lobby Congress.”
Yet, a coalition of pro-life groups, said the reality is that the Meehan Amendment would force countless individual Americans and groups to register and report as “lobbying firms."
"This amendment was nothing short of an imposed gag-order on conservative, pro-family, pro-life organizations," Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice told LifeNews.com.
"If it were to have passed, the language would have severely limited and restricted the First Amendment rights of grassroots organizations such as the ACLJ to mobilize on the key cultural issues of the day," he added.
Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee agreed.
“The defeat of the Meehan Amendment, and its predecessor in the Senate, is an important victory for grassroots-based movements like the pro-life movement," he said. "This victory is due to an outpouring of opposition to the idea of officeholders regulating the right of private groups to communicate with the public about what is going on in Congress.”
Johnson said that he was pleased with the victory but worried about another bill that would cause headaches for pro-life groups.
He cited H.R. 984, sponsored by pro-abortion Rep. Henry Waxman of California, that would require Executive Branch officials to disclose every letter, email or contact they receive from any "private party" such as pro-life groups or pro-life people.
“Under the Waxman ‘Big Brother Act,’ it would no longer be possible for any private citizen to express an opinion about a federal government policy, without that communication
becoming an entry in a public database,” Johnson explained.
The Meehan amendment wasn’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.
But NRLC said the Meehan amendment was 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 wrote about the Meehan amendment.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council agreed 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."