ACLU Teams With Traditional Values Against 220


Framing it as a First Amendment issue, the American Civil Liberties Union has teamed with the Traditional Values Coalition to take aim at the Senate lobbying reform bill.

The are part of a growing push-back against section 220 of the bill.

That provision in the bill would require grassroots groups to register as lobbyists if they meet certain criteria of money spent or people contacted.

The idea was to track the so-called "AstroTurf" groups that spring up over an issue, like network neutrality.

 But ACLU, the Traditional Values and Free Speech Coalitions, Concerned Women of America and others have complained that it is overly broad and could "severely impair how grassroots organizations communicate with their constituents regarding legislative matters," or as Mark Weinberg, legal co-counsel for the Free Speech coalition puts it, threaten citizen's basic rights to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Or as the Reverend Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, put it in a press conference Thursday: "It's like hanging a sign on both Houses of Congress saying: 'Do not disturb unless you have registered.'"

The idea may have been to crack down on big lobbies in grassroots clothing, The ACLU and the coalition argue that, the provision puts real grassroots groups in the same class as Washington lobbyists.

Conservative Christian leader James Dobson took to his Focus on the Family airwaves last week to rally groups like the coalition to fight the bill, saying it could have devastating effects on his broadcast ministry.

The ACLU and company are not opposed to overarching lobbying reform bill, and recognize that the "AstroTurf" provision had its roots in the reaction to the Jack Abramoff scandal, but they argue the provision is poorly worded and will chill Free Speech.

Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) has proposed an amendment supported by Minority Leader and lobbying reform bill backer Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) that would strike the provision.

That may not be necessary if the overall bill falls apart over the issue of granting President Bush a line-item veto of items in spending bills, which at press time it was threatening to do.