Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wingnut Lies About S.1

For over a month now, right wingnutz have been in a tizzy over S. 1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007. Their complaints center on Section 220 of the bill. Their talking points about that section are filled with dramatic and alarming claims. But, as you might expect when considering the source, they speak falsely.

Uniformly, the wingnutz pretty much tell you what the bill says, without linking to or quoting the actual language. So, to start the discussion, let us take a look at (gasp -- here's a thought) the actual words:
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.'.
Now, let's take a look at some of the wingnut claims.

The Pennsylvania Family Institute(PAFI) seems as good a place as any to start (they are just convenient. Swing a dead cat and look at the Talking Points of the first wingnut org that you hit, they will be saying the same thing.)

The PAFI alarm contains what appears to be a link to Senate Bill 1. But, when a faithful reader clicks on that link they are transported not to the Bill itself, but to the Family Research Council's Talking Points on the bill. After this little bit of misdirection, the PAFI tells it's blind sheep readers that Section 220 redefines lobbying to include grassroots lobbying:
Sec. 220 subjects "grassroots lobbying" to government regulations. Grassroots lobbying has long been seen as separate and distinct from “lobbying activity,” but it would now be subject to government regulation.
Oh. Horrors. Except that, by not providing their readers with a link to the actual bill, recipients of this wingnut org's "alert" would not know that, in fact, the actual language of the bill is to the opposite effect, and carves out specific protection for and exclusion of actual grassroots efforts from application of the lobbying reform legislation. Thus, Section 220 says:
`Lobbying activities include paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying, but do not include grassroots lobbying.'
Whew. But, wait, what's this . . . more horrors apparently lay hidden in 220. The PAFI tells its shocked members that under this legislation, PAFI newsletters would be subject to reporting and the PAFI could be fined $100,000 if it screws up:
This means that organizations like the Pennsylvania Family Institute, and larger organizations like Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, will need to go through miles of red tape, which include notifying Congress 45 days prior to engaging in the specific grassroots activity, which could prevent us from posting an urgent message like this to you about a specific vote. We could even face $100,000 fines for running afoul of the oppressive regulations.
Calm down, dear reader. As you might suspect by now, the PAFI and the other wingnutz repeating these Talking Lies Points have not gotten it exactly right. In fact, they've got it exactly wrong. In fact, here is what that nasty 220 actually says about such things:
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.
Hooboy. I hope that PAFI didn't pay too much to whomsoever it hired to interpret the bill for its members . . . .

Kids, the bottom line is that, no matter how many times the wingnutz say it, and no matter how many of them say it, the fact is that Senate Bill 1 does NOT, by its terms, apply to grassroots lobbying and does NOT require advocacy organizations to register simply because they send email alerts and newsletters to their members. Instead, the bill is designed to get at the swiftboater organizations and the people who (until passage of this bill) secretly pay them to rouse rabble.

4 comments:

ed.sistrunk said...

Fat Slob,
thanks for visiting the GCM site and posting a message. I disagree with you politically---but very informative and in depth article you posted on your site.

Best Wishes,
Ed
http://sistrunk.net

A Big Fat Slob said...

Thanks, and ditto!

ABFS

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your argument about S.1 however I think it is more nefarious than you think. Sure, it does not stop me from calling my neighbors and urging them to call Senator so-n-so and tell him to vote against bill this-n-that. However, now I pay someone to put together a mailing to everyone in my community outlining my position on the issue and urging them to contact the Senator. Wham! I am now in violation of the new law. Even if it is never actually enforced that way it will have a chilling effect on citizen grassroots lobbying. The rich and the powerful will always have their access. Force of numbers is all we small fry have.

A Big Fat Slob said...

Well, first you have to spend at least $25,000 to do it and, even then, you are not violating the law -- you just have to register.

But, the big difference -- yours is a fair point. Most of the propaganda being spread about S.1 and its House counterpart is flat-out false.