Stop Them From Stomping Out the Grassroots

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Jan 17, 2007 1:40 PM

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I recently read a book by Balint Vazsonyi called America's Thirty Years War. Vazsonyi, who passed away a couple of years ago, was an Internationally-Renowned Concert Pianist in Hungary, before becoming an American conservative. His book compares modern America to what he saw growing up in Nazi -- and then Communist -- controlled Hungary.

As the Senate debates "lobby reform," Vazsonyi's story of growing up under a Totalitarian regime rings true. The right to free association, free speech, and political participation may be cornerstones of our Republic, but under the Nazi or Communist regimes, as Vazsonyi recalls, those who sought to speak out against the Nazi or Communist regimes were "re-educated" or "dealt with."

Vazsonyi's book was meant to serve as a warning to America that we are also in danger of losing our freedoms.  That sentiment certainly rings true today.  As you've hopefully heard by now, Section 220 of S1, the lobby reform bill, would effectively muzzle grassroots groups who merely seek to inform the public. In essence, this bill would be a major impediment on any collection of people -- including Churches -- who wish to exercise their right to free speech. 

This grassroots "reform" would require onerous disclosure forms which would essentially discourage participation in Democracy. Perhaps even more concerning, it would let the politicians know which citizens are organizing against them (as you can imagine, the fear of retribution tends to stifle political participation). As conservative leader Richard Viguerie recently wrote, this legislation: "... would impose criminal penalties, even jail time, on grassroots causes and citizens who criticize Congress."

Think that's too radical? Consider former FEC Chairman Brad Smith's recent quote in The Hill:

He argued that lawmakers are seeking the identity of firms paying for constituent calls for purposes of retaliation: “Can you think of any other reason that members of Congress need to know who’s running grassroots ads in their district?”

Liberals incorrectly claim this reform is solely geared toward stopping corporations from hiring grassroots lobbying firms to influence legislation. (They refer to this as "Astroturf.") Until recently (full disclosure here), I worked at a grassroots lobbying firm. Our clients paid us to help get ordinary Americans involved in issues these citizens already believe in. At the end of the day, our sin was in helping encourage average citizens to exercise their right to:"petition the government for a redress of grievances" -- under the First Amendment. Shame on us!

With all the scandals involving politicians, it is ironic that the Democrats would seek to shut-up the very organizations who serve as the public's watchdog against corrupt politicians. It is not "we the people" who need to be watched. If anybody needs to be watched, it's the politicians in Washington. What America needs is more citizen participation -- not less.

Fortunately, the Bennett Amendment would fix this problem. Contact your Senators now -- while you still can.  And make sure to sign our petition.