DownsizeDC.org
March 13, 2007
The Fraudulent Case for Grassroots Legislation
By Jim Babka
It's baaack!

We stopped it in the Senate, but now the House has taken up regulating the grassroots -- regulating groups like DownsizeDC.org.

Let me be clear. Here at DownsizeDC.org, we're not doing anything illegal. We're not doing anything unethical. And we haven't so much as asked a Congressman to go to dinner. Nor are we supported by big money interests trying to find ways to get a hold of your tax dollars or earn special favors.

There are groups who are doing those things. The supporters of this legislation pretend to be doing something about that. But here's the kicker: As long as these individuals, groups, and institutions are communicating with their "members," they'll be free of any burden under this legislation.

No reporting required for them.

But DownsizeDC.org expects that we'll be doing at least four fewer campaigns per year and spending $10,000 of our annual donor donations just to keep ourselves in compliance with this new law.

And all we will produce for this lost time and expensive effort is a report that our enemies can twist and distort for the purpose of attacking us.

It's just that simple.

You are the grassroots!

You rely on grassroots organizations to keep you informed and give you a channel to speak up -- even speak truth to power -- about the issues that matter to you.

Yes, we stopped this horrendous bill in the Senate, but our work is not done. We need you to act now. Tell Congress you oppose attempts to regulate the grassroots.

And if you're still not convinced, let me share a few more good arguments with you. They come from Mark Fitzgibbons of American Target Advertising in a column he wrote called,

"The Fraudulent Case for Grassroots Legislation."

Fitzgibbons begins, "The grassroots legislation, simply stated, is unconstitutional. It is nothing more than some with vested financial and political interests trying to violate the First Amendment rights of others. Proponents have tried to overcome this fact by making justifications. A review of those justifications demonstrates that they are in fact not only insufficient to overcome the First Amendment barrier against this legislation, but the justifications themselves are false."

Then, he provides a working definition of "fraud" -- “an intentional perversion of truth for the purpose of inducing another in reliance upon it to part with some valuable thing or surrender a legal right.”

Here are the three of the "fraudulent justifications" to which Mark Fitzgibbons responds:

1) It’s an attempt to regulate Astroturf.

Fitzgibbons points out that there's no consistent definition of the phrase by the various parties that use it. Even worse, it's not defined in the bill. So what is Astroturf? Well, one person testifying to a House committee on March 1 said it could be summed up in three words . . . "Harry and Louise."

Harry and Louise were actors, used in commercials depicting the potential mess of 1990s government health care reform proposals.

Why not, "Harry and Tonto, or Thelma and Louise?" Fitzgibbons sees something sinister in this reference -- a window into the soul of these regulators-in-waiting. "What if Harry and Louise were discussing puppy adoption legislation and the commercial was underwritten by The Humane Society?"

Well, this witness probably wouldn't have mentioned it because she probably would've agreed with _that_ cause. But some speech is disagreeable to her. So what's really going on?

"This advocate . . . was clearly targeting the content and message of that commercial. Those are the same motives used [for] hundreds of years to censor . . . political speech." 

In other words, I don't like it, so it should be illegal.

But, "attempts to regulate even this thing people call Astroturf are no more than an attempt to regulate communications to the general public that influence public opinion. That is core political speech protected by the First Amendment."

2) The grassroots legislation is targeted at money in politics, and disclosure is for the benefit of the public.

Disclosure is good for the public? Well then, let's get rid of secret ballots!

Fitzgibbons sat through those March 1 hearings, listened carefully, and heard nothing to convince him that was the aim or intent of the bill sponsors.

Instead, they appear to be doing a magician's misdirection. It's fun in magic, but not in legislation.

Call it sleight of mouth.

Even with all the griping about corporate lobbyists, fat cats, and greedy special interests, under this proposed law, deep pocket, special interests that have lots of money, can spend it without reporting. "Labor unions and large, wealthy membership organizations such as AARP," as well as, "Fortune 500 companies would be able spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars mobilizing untold millions of corporate shareholders, officers and employees, all people with vested financial interests in legislation, yet not report a dime," reports Fitzgibbons. 

And he's right. We already told you how much this will cost our organization.

Fitzgibbons goes into greater detail about who is affected and who is not. But in broad strokes, this has nothing to do with targeting money in politics, and the disclosure compelled by this bill is really for the benefit of those wealthy interests who can't stand the modest competition the grassroots offer.

3) Disclosure is not regulation.

This wonderfully Orwellian line is deployed by the proponents of the bill -- especially the institutional media. In fact, they think they own the First Amendment. They're hard-pressed to see how it applies to we common folk.

Fitzgibbons points to the New York Times who are big supporters of these new restrictions. He also demonstrates their hypocrisy, for they saw a "chilling effect” and a violation of a reporter's First Amendment rights when they defended Judith Miller from having to reveal her "clandestine government" sources in a "criminal investigation."

Well, these new rules will have a chilling effect -- particularly on the creation of new groups and initiatives. It's a daunting task folks. I'm not looking forward to all the paperwork and the worry about all the ways we could possibly get in trouble for exercising what our Founding Father's were naive and foolish enough to believe were our individual and collective rights. 

DC Downsizers, these are some of the many reasons to oppose this terrible bill. And the time to act is now.

But if you still think this legislation is a good idea, then send us $10,000!

Jim Babka
President
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
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