Nonprofit Leaders Expose Senate Witch
Some politicians, who do not like citizens involvement in public policy formation, have asserted that issue advocacy is virtually the same as political campaigning. Since campaign finance regulation is an accepted fact of American public policy, this helps these politicians gain control over nonprofits.
The effort to regulate issue advocacy by Americans and advocacy organizations, as part of "campaign finance reform," is a direct attack upon the First Amendment's protection of the freedom speak, associate freely and to petition the government without interference from the government.
On July 8, 1997 the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, under the chairmanship of Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN), began hearings into illegal and improper political campaign activities. Previously, Senator Thompson announced that he would issue subpoenas for documents from five nonprofit organizations as part of the Committee's investigation.
On June 28, 1997 the Washington Post
reported that the committee would soon issue 40 additional
subpoenas, "many aimed at nonprofit political
organizations." According to Committee sources, among the
new nonprofits to be subpoenaed are politically diverse:
"This is a classic First Amendment abuse. These nonprofits are being targeted simply because they ran issue advertisements where someone objected to the message. No one has accused them of any illegal act. The message being sent to nonprofits is don't do issue advocacy," said an attorney for one targeted nonprofit.
The initial subpoenas targeting
nonprofits supposedly were based on unspecified innuendo
that certain organizations spoke too aggressively about the
legislative records of certain politicians prior to or
during an election cycle. The initial subpoenas were issued
to five nonprofits:
On May 19, 1997, U.S. News & World Report wrote that "[t]he Democrats believe that the GOP's National Policy Forum regularly received foreign money and want to subpoena its donor list now that the forum's nonprofit status has been questioned" (emphasis added). According to other press sources, National Policy Forum was recently informed by the IRS that it wasn't entitled to its tax exemption status because its activities were considered "too Republican."
Paul Clark, Press Secretary to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, told FSC that 25 professional staff members are working on the "Special Investigation" for the Republican members. Additionally, nine FBI agents have been loaned to the Committee. Democratic members have their own Committee staff working on the investigation as well.
Issue advocacy nonprofits have objected to being lumped in with organizations and individuals who allegedly took illegal contributions from foreigners and campaign committees.
Peter Flaherty of Citizens for Reform told FREE SPEECH that the Senate subpoena would require his organization to provide essentially "every piece of paper" produced by the organization. He estimated that it would cost CFR over $100,000 in legal fees to comply.
Hearings began July 8, 1997, and will be held for three days a week in July. After the August recess, the hearings will continue into September. They will be held in the Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, scene of the recent Whitewater hearings held by Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY). Hearings are scheduled to continue sporadically through the end of the year.
Political speech regulation proponents
hope to use the committee's hearings to intimidate
nonprofits into ceasing issue advocacy, which would be
tantamount to waiving their First Amendment rights provide
their members and the public with information on the voting
record and policy positions of public officials.
Vermont Taxes Lobbying, Limits Political Speech
The Vermont law limits political campaign spending and enacts a host of other measures giving the government far-reaching power to direct and regulate the political process.
The Buckley v. Valeo decision affirmed the right of Americans to participate in the political process without government-imposed spending limits. Vermont's new law rejects the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.
In a matter of great concern to nonprofits, Vermont's law would also attempt to regulate issue advocacy if state bureaucrats determined that informing the public about an official's vote on an issue was done to indirectly affect the election. According to the new law, political advertising is defined as "any communication...which expressly or implicitly advocates the success or defeat of a candidate." [Section 4.17 V.S.A. Chapter 59 subchapter 7 section 2881 (emphasis added)]. Such advertising is subject to severe restrictions, as well as criminal penalties for violations.
The Wall Street Journal reported on April
9, 1997, that a political speech regulation group official
said, "While our ultimate goal is reform of the federal
system, we're going to first build support in the states."
Vermont's attack is the first salvo in the new
state-by-state war of the regulators against issue
Clinton Administration Seeks End to Buckley
Campaign and advocacy regulation proponents have a deep-seated hostility to the Buckley decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the congressionally-enacted limitations on campaign expenditures are unconstitutional because they abridge our freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
As Buckley acknowledged, the heart of
free speech is the expression of political beliefs.
Consumer Protection or Bureaucratic Racket? Issued by
Members of FSC's Leadership Group (which
span the political spectrum) were involved in writing and
editing the document. "When you can get leaders of
nonprofits from such diverse groups as the Coalition to Stop
Gun Violence, American Conservative Union, Feminist
Majority, English First, and others to agree that their free
speech rights are being trampled by supposed 'consumer
protection' legislation, you know you've achieved critical
mass to change the system," commented FSC Membership
Director Steve Whitener. The FSC brochures will be
distributed over the next few weeks to key state legislators
throughout the country.
FEC Seeks Comments on Banning Soft
Susan E. Propper, Assistant General Counsel
Federal Election Commission
999 E Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20463
email: firstname.lastname@example.org; fax: (202) 219-3923
Free Speech Coalition Targeted by Pennsylvania
As FSC has been active in Pennsylvania,
the state's action are clear examples of harassment of a
supporter of FSC's efforts to protect nonprofits' free
For more information, contact Steve
Whitener, Membership Director