Friday, January 19, 2007

Lobbying Reform and Blogging: A scare with S. 1, Section 220


We had another scare about blogging and campaign finance/lobbying reform recently. On January 19, 2007 the U.S. Senate considered and passed legislation for lobbying and ethics reform (to be distinguished, I guess, from campaign finance reform). The bill was S. 1, and Section 220 appeared to require reporting of grassroots activism. According to some accounts, even amateur bloggers would have been required to make formal reports, although the trigger conditions were not clear. That could have meant more than 500 blog entries in a year, or more than 500 visitors (many amateur blogs get tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands or even millions of page requests a year, the mathematics of which is well known to the Internet advertising industry).

Richard A. Viguerie has organized Grassrootsfreedom.com and had written

“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.

According to Education Watch, Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) had said:

"Some defenders of Section 220 say that these requirements would apply only if the activist is an employee of an organization that spends more than $10,000 in a calendar quarter on such ``grassroots lobbying activity.'' Regrettably, they are mistaken--that may have been the intent, but it is not the language of Section 220...under Section 220, even $1 per quarter spent to ``stimulate'' citizens to communicate with their representatives in Congress triggers the registration and reporting requirement, for an individual who meets the other four numbered criteria in our previous paragraph."

Those four criteria are these:

"If Section 220 is enacted, the activist will learn that she must register with the federal government as a ``lobbyist'' and file quarterly reports detailing her efforts to stimulate ``grassroots lobbying,'' of any dollar amount, if (l) she is paid any sort of salary, (2) spends more than 20 percent of her time on such grassroots activities, (3) presents the motivating communications to more than 500 persons who are not paying members of the organization, and (4) has communicated with a congressional office or Executive Branch official more than once during a calendar quarter (for example, by sending an e-mail or making a phone call advising a Senate office of the organization's position on a pending vote)."

Certainly my blogs and websites certainly would qualify for part (3), and I correspond with Congressman Moran once a month or so and often speak to his office. I am unpaid (at least for now).

One measure that did pass was a requirement to disclose “bundling” of small separate campaign contributions into larger donations.

The Washington Post
story is by Jonathan Weisman and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, “Senate Passes Ethics Package – Parties Reach Hard-Fought Deal on Lobbying and Other Reforms”

Many perks remain intact

On Saturday, Jan. 20, John Solomon had a story in The Washington Post, "New Rules Still Allow Congress Many Perks: Policies on Lobbying Are Selectively Strict," link here. The story contained some disturbing details about the football game perks for a Republic Ohio Congressman (and Minority leader) John A. Boehner, who is involved in bills that might further restrict social networking sites like MySpace.com .

On Monday, February 12, 2007, David D. Kirkpatrick provided a story to The New York Times, "Congress Finds Ways of Avoiding Lobbyist Limits; Rules Are Only Weeks Old; Prohibited From Accepting Trips, Lawmakers Run Them ti Raise Cash".

Special interests hire relatives of lawmakers

Apparently this "family friendly" (sic) practice is still permitted. On Feb. 8, 2007 Elizabetg Willaimson reported in The Washington Post, "Railroad Firms Bringing Aboard Lawmakers' Lobbyist Relatives," at this link.

On Feb. 16, 2007 Michael D. Shear had a story "Virginia Bar Could Reverse Limit on Firms Hiring Legislators," to remove an ethics rule that bars state legislators from being hired like lobbyists, here.

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