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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Congress preparing to criminalize critics?

Source: Information Liberation

Senate bill would 'create most expansive intrusion on First Amendment rights ever'

"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," says Richard A. Viguerie, chairman of GrassrootsFreedom.com

Section 220 of S. 1, the lobbying reform bill before the Senate, would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report quarterly to Congress, as lobbyists are required.

"Section 220 would amend existing lobbying reporting law by creating the most expansive intrusion on First Amendment rights ever," Viguerie said.

For the first time in history, he stated, critics of Congress will need to register and report with Congress itself.

"The bill would require reporting of 'paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying,' but defines 'paid' merely as communications to 500 or more members of the public, with no other qualifiers," Viguerie said.

The Senate passed an amendment on the bill Jan. 9 to create criminal penalties, including up to one year in jail, if someone "knowingly and willingly fails to file or report."

Viguerie said the legislation regulates small, legitimate nonprofits, bloggers, and individuals, but creates loopholes for corporations, unions, and large membership organizations that would be able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, yet not report.

"Congress is trying to blame the grassroots, which are American citizens engaging in their First Amendment rights, for Washington's internal corruption problems," he said.

Christian leader James Dobson -- along with Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and Don Wildmon -- spoke out about the provision on a recent "Focus on the Family" radio broadcast.

"The Democrats, and a few Republicans are trying now, very, very quickly, to insulate themselves from the public and to do it by muzzling people like us," Dobson said. "It's a complex piece of legislation and not everything in it is offensive. But the provision that we cannot accept would require organizations like Focus on the Family to report every contact with anyone in the executive or legislative branches and any effort to try to influence grassroots response, even if it doesn't include a call to action. In other words, they are trying to muzzle us and many other organizations."

Last weekend, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, introduced an amendment to remove the bill's controversial section.

CBN News reported a senior Senate aide said the effort to remove the disputed section is garnering wide support.

"Virtually every single American is represented by a lobbyist," Sen. Bennett said while introducing the bill. "Every single American has someone lobbying in behalf of his or her interests, whether he or she knows it or not."

Bennett argued, according to CBN News, that if the Senate does not remove Section 220, "we will do damage to the constitutional right -- right there in the first amendment, next to freedom of religion and freedom of speech -- the constitutional right to lobby."

"Even though the people who broke the old rules were caught under the old rules, convicted under the old rules, and sent to prison under the old rules, we need to be looking ahead and recognize that in a world where virtually everyone is involved, in one way or another, we need to do this right," he said.

Co-sponsors of Bennett's amendment are Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Cornyn, R-Texas.

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