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Congress preparing to criminalize critics?
Thu Jan 18, 2007 16:37
 

 
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Congress preparing to criminalize critics?
http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=53813

January 17, 2007
2007 WorldNetDaily.com

The Senate is considering legislation that would regulate grassroots communications, with penalties for critics of Congress.

"In what sounds like a comedy sketch from Jon Stewart's Daily Show, but isn't, the U. S. Senate would impose criminal penalties, even jail time, on grassroots causes and citizens who criticize Congress," says Richard A. Viguerie, chairman of www.GrassrootsFreedom.com

Section 220 of S. 1 http://tinyurl.com/2n4wpq , the lobbying reform bill before the Senate, would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report quarterly to Congress, as lobbyists are required.

"Section 220 would amend existing lobbying reporting law by creating the most expansive intrusion on First Amendment rights ever," Viguerie said.

For the first time in history, he stated, critics of Congress will need to register and report with Congress itself.

"The bill would require reporting of 'paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying,' but defines 'paid' merely as communications to 500 or more members of the public, with no other qualifiers," Viguerie said.

The Senate passed an amendment on the bill Jan. 9 to create criminal penalties, including up to one year in jail, if someone "knowingly and willingly fails to file or report."

Viguerie said the legislation regulates small, legitimate nonprofits, bloggers, and individuals, but creates loopholes for corporations, unions, and large membership organizations that would be able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, yet not report.

"Congress is trying to blame the grassroots, which are American citizens engaging in their First Amendment rights, for Washington's internal corruption problems," he said.

Christian leader James Dobson -- along with Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and Don Wildmon -- spoke out about the provision on a recent "Focus on the Family" radio broadcast.

"The Democrats, and a few Republicans are trying now, very, very quickly, to insulate themselves from the public and to do it by muzzling people like us," Dobson said. "It's a complex piece of legislation and not everything in it is offensive. But the provision that we cannot accept would require organizations like Focus on the Family to report every contact with anyone in the executive or legislative branches and any effort to try to influence grassroots response, even if it doesn't include a call to action. In other words, they are trying to muzzle us and many other organizations."

Last weekend, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, introduced an amendment to remove the bill's controversial section.

CBN News reported a senior Senate aide said the effort to remove the disputed section is garnering wide support.

"Virtually every single American is represented by a lobbyist," Sen. Bennett said while introducing the bill. "Every single American has someone lobbying in behalf of his or her interests, whether he or she knows it or not."

Bennett argued, according to CBN News, that if the Senate does not remove Section 220, "we will do damage to the constitutional right -- right there in the first amendment, next to freedom of religion and freedom of speech -- the constitutional right to lobby."

"Even though the people who broke the old rules were caught under the old rules, convicted under the old rules, and sent to prison under the old rules, we need to be looking ahead and recognize that in a world where virtually everyone is involved, in one way or another, we need to do this right," he said.

Co-sponsors of Bennett's amendment are Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Cornyn, R-Texas.


SEC. 220. DISCLOSURE OF PAID EFFORTS TO STIMULATE GRASSROOTS LOBBYING.

(a) Definitions- Section 3 of the Act (2 U.S.C. 1602) is amended--

(1) in paragraph (7), by adding at the end of the following: `Lobbying activities include paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying, but do not include grassroots lobbying.'; and

(2) by adding at the end of the following:

`(17) GRASSROOTS LOBBYING- The term `grassroots lobbying' means the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same.

`(18) PAID EFFORTS TO STIMULATE GRASSROOTS LOBBYING-

`(A) IN GENERAL- The term `paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying' means any paid attempt in support of lobbying contacts on behalf of a client to influence the general public or segments thereof to contact one or more covered legislative or executive branch officials (or Congress as a whole) to urge such officials (or Congress) to take specific action with respect to a matter described in section 3(8)(A), except that such term does not include any communications by an entity directed to its members, employees, officers, or shareholders.

`(B) PAID ATTEMPT TO INFLUENCE THE GENERAL PUBLIC OR SEGMENTS THEREOF- The term `paid attempt to influence the general public or segments thereof' does not include an attempt to influence directed at less than 500 members of the general public.

`(C) REGISTRANT- For purposes of this paragraph, a person or entity is a member of a registrant if the person or entity--

`(i) pays dues or makes a contribution of more than a nominal amount to the entity;

`(ii) makes a contribution of more than a nominal amount of time to the entity;

`(iii) is entitled to participate in the governance of the entity;

`(iv) is 1 of a limited number of honorary or life members of the entity; or

`(v) is an employee, officer, director or member of the entity.

`(19) GRASSROOTS LOBBYING FIRM- The term `grassroots lobbying firm' means a person or entity that--

`(A) is retained by 1 or more clients to engage in paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying on behalf of such clients; and

`(B) receives income of, or spends or agrees to spend, an aggregate of $25,000 or more for such efforts in any quarterly period.'.

(b) Registration- Section 4(a) of the Act (2 U.S.C. 1603(a)) is amended--

(1) in the flush matter at the end of paragraph (3)(A), by adding at the end the following: `For purposes of clauses (i) and (ii), the term `lobbying activities' shall not include paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying.'; and

(2) by inserting after paragraph (3) the following:

`(4) FILING BY GRASSROOTS LOBBYING FIRMS- Not later than 45 days after a grassroots lobbying firm first is retained by a client to engage in paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying, such grassroots lobbying firm shall register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives.'.

(c) Separate Itemization of Paid Efforts To Stimulate Grassroots Lobbying- Section 5(b) of the Act (2 U.S.C. 1604(b)) is amended--

(1) in paragraph (3), by--

(A) inserting after `total amount of all income' the following: `(including a separate good faith estimate of the total amount of income relating specifically to paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying and, within that amount, a good faith estimate of the total amount specifically relating to paid advertising)'; and

(B) inserting `or a grassroots lobbying firm' after `lobbying firm';

(2) in paragraph (4), by inserting after `total expenses' the following: `(including a good faith estimate of the total amount of expenses relating specifically to paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying and, within that total amount, a good faith estimate of the total amount specifically relating to paid advertising)'; and

(3) by adding at the end the following:

`Subparagraphs (B) and (C) of paragraph (2) shall not apply with respect to reports relating to paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying activities.'.

(d) Good Faith Estimates and De Minimis Rules for Paid Efforts To Stimulate Grassroots Lobbying-

(1) IN GENERAL- Section 5(c) of the Act (2 U.S.C. 1604(c)) is amended to read as follows:

`(c) Estimates of Income or Expenses- For purposes of this section, the following shall apply:

`(1) Estimates of income or expenses shall be made as follows:

`(A) Estimates of amounts in excess of $10,0000 shall be rounded to the nearest $20,000.

`(B) In the event income or expenses do not exceed $10,000, the registrant shall include a statement that income or expenses totaled less than $10,000 for the reporting period.

`(2) Estimates of income or expenses relating specifically to paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying shall be made as follows:

`(A) Estimates of amounts in excess of $25,000 shall be rounded to the nearest $20,000.

`(B) In the event income or expenses do not exceed $25,000, the registrant shall include a statement that income or expenses totaled less than $25,000 for the reporting period.'.

(2) TAX REPORTING- Section 15 of the Act (2 U.S.C. 1610) is amended--

(A) in subsection (a)--

(i) in paragraph (1), by striking `and' after the semicolon;

(ii) in paragraph (2), by striking the period and inserting `; and'; and

(iii) by adding at the end the following:

`(3) in lieu of using the definition of paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying in section 3(18), consider as paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying only those activities that are grassroots expenditures as defined in section 4911(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.'; and

(B) in subsection (b)--

(i) in paragraph (1), by striking `and' after the semicolon;

(ii) in paragraph (2), by striking the period and inserting `; and'; and

(iii) by adding at the end the following:

`(3) in lieu of using the definition of paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying in section 3(18), consider as paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying only those activities that are grassroots expenditures as defined in section 4911(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.'.

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