Where Do We Go From Here?
Joe Levin, President
Richard Viguerie, President
MR. LEVIN: Joe Levin, President of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is going to be a brief wrap-up session. I want you to stay in your seats.
I would like to introduce Richard Viguerie, who is seated to my left. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Free Speech Coalition. He is also Chairman of American Target Advertising, and former candidate for political office. Richard.
MR. VIGUERIE: Thank you, Joe. I had the pleasure of not only being to Joe's left a month ago, but to his right, and in back of him; never in front of him as we played golf at his country club, but that was all over the golf course, but never in front of Joe.
This will be brief. What I want to do here is just ask you to focus for a few minutes on what you have heard today and how this affects your business, your organization, causes, projects that you are interested in. We heard many speakers talk about things that they are doing with their organization to reach out to the grassroots.
We heard Ralph Reed give a very interesting, articulate discussion of the high tech grassroots lobbying that he is engaged in. It is kind of mind-boggling some of the things that are going on. I feel like I need to get into the Twentieth Century when I hear people like Ralph talk. Politicians though are beginning to experience what Ralph Reed and the people in this room are doing. They are not happy with it.
Whatever Ralph is doing now, in two years he is going to be doing two, three, four, 500 percent more and all of the people in this room are going to be doing the same. This is not going to go unnoticed or un-dealt with by the people across this river.
On Capitol Hill, the bureaucracies in this town, they are going to figure out how to try and silence us. And that is their bottom line goal; to silence us and put us out of business.
A few months ago I was at breakfast at a Free Speech Coalition Executive Committee Meeting talking to Roger Craver. Roger said, Richard, what's working these days? What are you mailing for on behalf of your clients? I said, gosh, Roger. I don't know; term limitation, I guess, reform of Congress, abuse of power by politicians, you know, just common generally bashing Congress.
He kind of laughed and said, funny. Me too. So, the point is they are catching it from the left and the right. They have figured this out and they are coming at us. We can take an attitude that we are all going to struggle with this as best we can. We can hire more employees or hire attorneys full-time as we have on our staff to deal with this.
Some non-profits have two, three, or more attorneys just to jump through the regulatory hoops. Whatever you are spending now to deal with the regulators is going to *pail to what you are going to be spending in two or three years.
This organization accomplishes more with less than any organization I know. $150,000 was our budget last year. This year we have increased it to the grand total of $170,000. The people working there are grossly underpaid. Lots of people are volunteering their time here.
I don't care who you are, including our organization, we are not doing enough. All of us need to do more. We have spent our entire life on one side of the fence asking people to give money for good, worthwhile causes. We are good at it. We are successful. Our organizations thrive and we thrive.
All of us here are making a good living working for good causes. It is time for us to turn and do the thing that we have been asking people to do all of these years and reciprocate. It is time for us to put something back into the pot. If we don't, these good causes, these good organizations are going to suffer. The people on the other side of this river are going to prevail.
It is just astounding that this organization in probably 16, 17 months since Bill Olson, Larry Pratt and myself sat down for a casual lunch at the Tower Club last spring. It is just mind- boggling what we have accomplished with a handful of dollars.
All we are doing is basically -- we are not maybe even holding our own. We are stopping a lot of good things. This organization played a major role in the defeat of the Lobbying Registration Act that we were talking about earlier today. This organization was front and center with that project. We didn't carry most of the water, but we were out there early. We were out there often. The people in this room were a big help there.
We need money to successfully deal with this issue. If we are only going to be able to deal with the issue with $170,000, $200,000, we are just going to continue to be beat about the head and shoulders by these regulators.
Now, beyond the $170,000 that we need just to stay alive this year, we are also trying to put together a litigation fund. We have to have money to go on the attack. Right now we are basically just holding our own; fending off these regulators as they come at us.
The attorneys are prepared to move forward with litigation to the Supreme Court if necessary, and it probably will take that. It is going to take $120,000 just to get started. That's not going to get us to the Supreme Court. It is probably going to take $500,000 to get us to the Supreme Court. We can't even begin to file a lawsuit that will, it won't be the Silver Bullet, but hopefully it will be an important bullet that will achieve a lot of what we want to accomplish. But we can't even do that until we raise $120,000. Some of us have pledged to contribute to the litigation fund, $10,000, either ourselves or to pledge to raise $10,000. That's not a lot of money when you think in terms of what you are spending to deal with the regulators.
There is not a month that goes by that we don't spend $10,000 dealing with the hoops that we have to jump through. I think we are just talking about a small amount of money in terms of the magnitude of the problem here. Really think seriously about what it is. What's it worth to you to be able to operate freely without undue regulations and burdensome regulators watching your every move and preventing you from doing the work that needs to be done?
$10,000 pledged to raise or to contribute yourself is really not a lot of money in terms of the problems that we are dealing with here. To paraphrase one of my heros. If not now, when? If not us, who? No one else is going to do this. It is up to us. There is no other organization that is going to take this fight to the regulators like we are. No one was doing it before. We have good allies. We have good organizations that are doing good work out there. This organization is going to be the one that's going to solve this problem, if anybody is going to do it. Thank you.
PARTICIPANT: I'm not an attorney. As I said at lunch, after a year or so of law school, the professors and I got together and we agreed that I was cut out for something else besides the study of law. We didn't know what it was. We do have an attorney here and a very fine attorney, Joe Levin, who is President of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is the Chairman of the Board, but I'm not sure of which.
Anyway, Joe is very much up to speed on litigation; particularly the litigation that the Free Speech Coalition is thinking about and focused on. Joe, can you bring us up to speed briefly?
MR. LEVIN: I suppose if people were that forthcoming, that there is litigation; several targets. We have heard about the kind of litigation that goes on here today. I wouldn't have anything to add to the general category of cases that can be brought. It has got to be targeted. The right jurisdictions have to be selected for litigation. We have got to make sure that we have got a good solid case and we have got to have money because litigation is expensive. It does not come cheaply and I doubt that there is anyone in this room who is not fully aware of that.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a (C)3. We are not out -- we don't do any lobbying. We do testify before Congress from time-to-time when asked. We are a successful 501(C)3. I suppose that under some scenario if the burdens become too oppressive we can simply get out of the way entirely. It is not something we want to do because we think that we serve a valuable educational purpose, even when we are soliciting funds through the mail, but we could do that.
I am more concerned about the marginal groups who can't afford the $10,000-plus that it may cost each year for a single group simply to register and deal with the registration in each of the states. I know that we are registered in more than 35 states. I am concerned, even more than that, about the hundreds or thousands of good ideas out there that may never be tested before an interested citizenry because they can't afford it.
If I were this group, as much as for the present, I would be concerned about the future and would think long and hard about joining in an effort such as the one that Richard has been talking about and many others have been talking about today. Get behind it because it is true. If you don't it, if we don't do it, it ain't going to get done. That is just axiomatic. It won't happen. Thank you.
PARTICIPANT: I think it has been time well-spent today. I don't know about you all, but I am kind of bitter sweet. I enjoy coming and communicating with my colleagues and friends here. I'm sorry all of you all are in the same boat that all of the rest of us are in, but misery loves company, I guess.
It does help to be reinforced to know that you are not the only one Dave says who people think is a felon and should be in jail. Thank you for your help. As I said earlier, I don't mean to rally overstate the case. I really feel this way. Whatever any of us, myself included, whatever we are doing, it ain't enough. We all need to do more. This is very, very important work. We have been on the receiving end for so many years, I'd like to see us switch sides and contribute to something that has been very good to all of us.