Why We Exist: An Overview
We are a very, very unusual coalition for Washington. I, as the President of the Feminist Majority, am sitting between David Keene, who is representing the American Conservative Union, and Dick Dingman, who is from the Free Congress Foundation.
We would seldom, I think never, be on a panel together on anything. As a matter of fact, if you look at the groups which are supporting many of our activities you could get quite dizzy. Many times in Washington you figure out what side you are on by just looking at who is supporting what.
The Free Speech Coalition is definitely a coalition of groups from the left, right and center. In some ways those are cold war terms, maybe not meaning so much, but definitely they mean a lot to the groups in that we represent many different viewpoints on issues that would come before our public -- everything from gun control to abortion to women's rights.
But we have come together to fight for the existence of small, nonprofit advocacy groups. In essence, we are worried that rules at the state and federal level, and in some places even in localities, are becoming so stringent and so difficult to meet that non-profits - - organizations that are expressing opinions on public policy -- have to hire a battery of lawyers and accountants just to comply with the regulations. So, it is extremely hard for new groups -- groups with ideas that maybe none of us have ever heard of -- to get together and assembly to affect public policy.
If more of these regulations which appear to be reform take place, we will see fewer and fewer non-profits, fewer and fewer small groups forming at the grassroots constituency level.
I became active in public policy affairs at a local level too many years ago now. Actually, I fear that many of the things women's rights groups did long before we had organizations would be very difficult to do today because regulations are making it more and more expensive to simply participate.
The Free Speech Coalition is concerned about all those things that affect small nonprofits and advocacy organizations such as fundraising, direct mail, and solicitation of gifts through the mail.
When I first became active in non-profit organizing, those were of less concern than they are today. The postal regulations or the postal costs were very small. Today, not only have postal rates gone up, but the requirements to play the game have become more complicated. The average group now must use a direct mail house or a vendor or a business firm to get out their mailings at an affordable price.
In essence, the better the equipment, the more computers, the higher tech your establishment, and whether you can go to a professional mailer, the cheaper you can reach out through the mail. There isn't one rate for every non-profit group. Those non- profit groups which cannot afford all the high tech segmentation or separation of the lists so that you do the Post Office's work for them, are mailing at a higher rate.
If you have to mail at a higher rate, guess what? You can't reach as many people. Yyou might have the best idea on earth, but that idea is going to become one that only reaches a very few people.
Wwe are so concerned about mail -- not only the fundraising aspects, but the public education aspects -- because in our modern society it is probably one of the only ways a small non-profit organization can reach a constituency economically. We are priced out of the market for television advertising. We are priced out of the market for radio and ewspaper advertising, too. So we are left with either getting our message out of information through the mails or literally walking door-to-door.
I figure with even the regulations of walking door-to-door that we're all going to be left with the proverbial soap box in some park, standing there screaming at ourselves.
PARTICIPANT: You'll need a permit.
MS. SMEAL: That's it. There you go. We'll need a permit in the park; so we won't have the soap box. Will we just mutter to ourselves or throw something at the television set?
No. We aren't going to accept that in a free society. Instead, we -- the Free Speech Coalition -- banned together a very wide variety of organizations, increasing in its variety everyday, to fight regulations that make no sense or make it much more difficult for small groups to operate effectively.
Some regulations are reasonable. We don't fear a takeover of the public policy debate by rich, vested interests that are doing it for their own interests. That isn't the case. One example of what we do worry about is the Lobby Reform Disclosure Act still before Congress. What is primarily in front of the public from this bill is the regulation of gifts from lobbyists to Senators or Representatives, or officials. Who wouldn't want to end expensive gifts or golf trips or payoffs to our policy makers?
So, when you look at it as a private citizen you think, well, that makes sense to me. Let's pass that.
So who would be against it? Why should small groups in any way worry about that?
We worry because the bill isn't just about gifts and payoffs. In the fine print, there are regulations on non-profit advocacy groups and how they have to register and what the requirements are. Already there are requirements at the IRS level. There are all kinds of requirements.
And this bill adds another requirement: it would ask all of us in the nonprofit community to yield our membership lists or our constituency lists? And the sponsors of the bil in Congress disagree about what it means.
I've been before legislative bodies too often where they say what really counts here is the legislative history and the intent. I have been before the courts too often where they say what really counts here is the wording of the law and not the legislative history.
This law could be interpreted by a reasonable person to mean that nonprofit groups might have to yield their membership lists, a lot of groups -- including the Free Speech Coalition -- say wait a minute and make sure that it says it literally what the lawmakers want it to mean.
Now, why would we be worried about yielding our membership lists? What have we got to hide?
One group today might seem non-controversial, but tomorrow it might be controversial. If you join a feminist group, would some employer assume you are a trouble maker and decide not to hire you because you might sue them for sexual harassment. The issue of privacy and the freedom to associate are rights we are concerned about.
To address these issues, the Free Speech Coalition is forming a litigation committee to challenge state regulations that are becoming so complicated that ordinary heads of organizations can no longer fill out the forms. You have to hire accounting firms. You have got to hire lawyers. There is a different state regulation for almost every state.
One of the beauties of the United States of America is that we have the ability to go from one state to another very freely. We have the ability to not only travel, but to move, engage in commerce, etc.
That freedom doesn't seem to be extended to nonprofits. Taxes are being placed on different non-profits, registration fees, filing complications. For those of us interested in reaching our constituents by mail, they want us to put different disclaimers, with different wording. So, your return devices have all this fine print with different wording for different states.
Pretty soon we are going to need several pages of direction just to tell our people what they have to say in every state. Then they say, well, this is not so onerous. This is just one state. They act as if we can change the mailing for their state and not increase our costs. Fifty different packets means again more costs, more complications, and on it goes.
Our litigation plan is to challenge some of the state laws that have made it economically impossible to reach people within that state. Our litigation efforts will challenge not only state, but if necessary federal regulations which make it impossible or very difficult nonprofit groups.
In sum, the Free Speech Coalition is made up of nonprofit advocacy groups and others working together to try to represent the interests that might not be a part of our issue, but allows all nonprofit groups to reach constituencies and members.
If we are only speaking for ourselves, we will have no impact. In fact, we might as well just turn it over to the very rich and let them talk to each other and make our laws. If we are to have an impact with small groups of people representing modest means, we have to do it with numbers. We have to have rules and regulations that make that possible.
We must also look at regulations that are not as apparent as postal or charitable registration regulations. Threats come from all different kinds of agencies. The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) now has not just one at the federal level, but little commissions in every state.
We marvel every year at how more and more millionaires are declaring for office and just buying, in essence, the seat. The only people who can afford to operate are those who are rich themselves. Up until now, we have not challenged much. In fact, non-profits have sort of taken it and looked at the limitations and have been afraid to do anything. There has been a tremendous chilling affect.
One of the things I worried about if the Lobbying Disclosure Act passed is that many non-profits would simply stop interacting with public officials. In other words, fearful that they might do something wrong, feeling that they could never afford the legal expenses, they simply stop that activity. I have watched it happened in the electoral circuits. When these reform law acts were passed, groups thought that they would get together and form PACs and that they would participate. Instead, many groups have simply stopped participating in elections.
I think that is tragic enough in the electoral system. It would even be worse in the legislative system if public interest groups and non-profits simply stopped talking to policy makers. We would then leave it only to the very wealthy interests to do it as they used to do it in smoked-filled back rooms. Today, I guess it wouldn't be smoke-filled necessarily, but it would be rooms of just a few individuals who would be able to wield any influence without anybody checking. Well, we are not going to let that happen. That's why we have banned together.
It is the greatness of the United States that we can come together for common interests and discuss policy. In many ways, we should be doing this on other issues so that everything we did was not so polarized.
Anyway, that's where we are here. We are working. We are trying to work together on very technical issues affecting the ability to organize grassroots, to publicly educate, and to fund raise in a manner that is not too expensive and that can be done by groups of various sizes -- especially small groups.
Now, I'd like to introduce Dick Dingman,
who is the Executive Vice President of the Free Congress
Foundation. He is the anchor of the American Family Show on
the National Empowerment Television, the new network that
has been established by the Free Congress Foundation. He
held a senior staff position in the House of Represenatives
as the Director of the House Republican Study Committee.
Thank you, Ellie.
The very mix that we see here today of interest groups bespeaks the seriousness of our task because none of the people who are here are people who needed another meeting. None of the people here take lightly matters that affect the freedom that we are working on here today. So the very fact that you are here and that we have such a philosophical mix tells us there is something seriously amiss.
Now, during my many years on the Hill -- and I've been in the political and public policy arena now for 30 years -- I have seen an awful lot of change. High tech has made a lot of that change, with the sophistication in the communications fields, with the introduction and proliferation of fax machines.
I can remember when we first had a fax machine in a Congressional office and it took about four minutes to get a single page through. Today, they crank them right out.
But all kinds of changes have taken place that have resulted in a higher volume of input to the offices.
In my early years, anytime I would go out to speak to a public group, inevitably, the first question that would be asked was, how can we be informed? Well, we didn't have all of these public interest groups back then. They have come about because people kept asking that question: How can I be informed?
So, you, as participants in public interest groups, have sought to fill that need, whatever your subject. You have tried to find the cheapest, the most effective way that you could to get a message out to those who cared about your subject.
Well, that has resulted in an astounding increase of incoming mail, whether it be voice mail, or electronic mail, or faxes, or whatever. The Congressional offices are now swamped because people are beginning to be educated. The result is that Congressmen, Senators, notwithstanding the fact that they are our representatives, somehow are wishing they could be insulated from all of this.
They liked constituent contact when they originated. That's why they have all of the newsletters, et cetera. But when they start getting volumes of input that challenge them in any way, that's work. That's a political booby-trap. And they don't like it.
We have seen evidence of some of the proposed reforms that have resulted specifically from interest groups exerting their rights of communicating and getting people to communicate then back to their elected officials. The best way to do that is to put more controls on that incoming correspondence. And we see a whole spate of things designed to do that. That's what has given rise to the Free Speech Coalition.
The fact that there is a concerted effort among many government entities to stifle constituent input and that is where we take serious issue with them collectively. It is our right to be able to communicate. It is our right to be able to tell the people out in the field, this is what is really happening in Washington and here is what you can do about it. Then when they react to it and grassroots spring up, then the elected officials get very touchy.
As a member of the leadership of a non-profit organization, I have many duties. One of them is always to obey the law, whether it is a fundraising law, tax law, or whatever. Our goal is to obey the law. Although, I am not the finance director, I have a finance director who is very competent. She comes to me and she says, here is a whole bunch of state filings. Would you review these and then sign off on them?
The other day she came to me and said in Michigan they now want bios of all of the senior officials of the organization in addition to the tax information and the financial reports and all. It is just getting out of control.
It is not just a matter of the difficulty of complying with these things; every time there is a new restriction added, you are exposured to an additional opportunity to be in violation. That threatens all your resources, ecause if you get sued you get taken -- challenged on it -- you have got to tie-up your resources in that instead of your basic mission.
Our goal is to educate on issues. Our goal is to raise funds so we can educate on issues. I don't have time to keep track of all the nuances of state laws. When I get in a magazine or some publication that says, oh, some state has just changed the law on fundraising. You now have to do x, y, and z to comply. You know, I might say, oh, man. There is another one. I'll send it down to my finance director. I wish I could change it, but I can't. I don't have time to start leading the fight on that particular new change.
That's why we have and need the Free Speech Coalition. They keep a close eye on all of those things, the collective impact of all of those things, and tell each of us, the members, what is happening. Here is what we can do. Here is a bill coming up that is going to make life worse. It is going to stifle communications even further.
Like you, I have dealt with many interest groups in this city. Some of them are very effective. Some are rather ineffective. I have certainly had plenty of opportunities to make judgments on many of them. But I'll have to tell you that my experience has been that I've gotten timely information from this organization and concise information. Even though lawyers write it, I can understand it.
Not only are they telling me, here is what we need you to do, and ere is the list of people who need to be called, but they also are on the ground as I expect they were yesterday. I was trying to reach Howard yesterday, and of course the Lobbying Bill was up and all kinds of things were done.
When I finally got him, he was able to fax to me within five minutes a critical document that I was then able to share with a number of other activists to go back out and lobby further on the Lobbying Bill.
So, I'm simply suggesting to you that if you are not a member, you need to seriously consider it because this is an organization that can help keep you out of trouble, but beyond that defensive measure, can help us collectively go on the offensive and either roll back some of these onerous provisions, have them declared illegal, if that is the case, but certainly to prevent more and worse.
I urge you to become seriously involved because if you don't, we won't be having meetings like this much longer because we won't have organizations like these much longer. The nation needs to hear. I have no fear if my issue differs from your issue.
I have no fear of whether you are going to win or I'm going to win as long as we both have the opportunity to communicate to the people. You communicate your view of it. I'll communicate my view of it and let them decide and let them act. But we both have the right and need to preserve the right to communicate with them.
There are lots of ways that bureaucrats and elected officials can stop our efforts, whether it is through raising the postal rates, or whether it is through redefining what is lobbying, or whether it is through changing the application of the FEC rules, or whether through state control or fundraising.
There are a whole array of avenues they can get us. They will if we are not vigilant and active. So I urge you to get involved, be involved and help take leadership in stemming the tide that is coming against us.
MS. SMEAL: Thank you very much.
Our next speaker is David Keene. He is
President of Keene, Helper and Associates, a governmental
affairs and political consulting firm based in Alexandria,
Virginia. He is also an attorney and a businessman. And, he
is the Chair of the American Conservative Union.
Thank you, Ellie.
The reason that there are two of us and one of her is that she is twice as effective in many cases.
We have to gang up a little bit to get that proverbial level playing field.
I'd like to begin, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking here, but I'd like to begin by once again thanking Charles Overby and thanking the Freedom Forum, John Segenfowler (phonetic) and Al Newhart for the contributions they have made to this discussion.
Without the assistance of the Freedom Forum, the conference we held last year would not have been possible. I don't think the conference that we are having here today would be possible. More than that, out of that conference last year came a realization on their part that the final clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is ignored more often than it is in fact honored. The Constitution guarantees to the people of this country the right to petition their government for redress of grievances. Lobbying, broadly construed, is as protected as religion, and the right to free speech, the right to press. Yet no one seems to either grasp that simple fact, or understand it, or operate with an eye toward that part of the Constitution.
As a result of that, they asked me to come down to Nashville to their headquarters this year. I'll be down there for the next three or four months working with them to develop a study of these threats to the right to petition, the threats particularly directed at advocacy groups.
In fact, during the course of the next few months you will probably all be getting some letters from me asking for some of your experiences, and the costs incurred, and the inhibiting effects and all of these sorts of things. I'd personally appreciate your cooperation on that.
But more than that, all of this underscores the dedication of the Freedom Forum to the kinds of values that are necessary if any of us are to be able to continue in the activities that we are involved in. Having said that and looked at that and having experienced some of the things that have been going on in the last few years, I like a lot of other people I expect, wonder how many people really do believe in the First Amendment? We all believe in it for ourselves. But do we believe in it for the other fellow?
I haven't been able to find very many Members of Congress who believe in it for folks other than themselves.
One of the problems is, and one of the important reasons for this coalition is that those people who understand that the First Amendment is essential to their activities must also understand that they have to stand up for the activities of others.
This Coalition is really a sort of organic recognition of that fact. And it is important for that very reason. What we have and we have had over the years, is whenever anyone particularly in power sees one aspect or another benefiting somebody with whom they disagree, they'd find reasons why it ought to be corrected, and why it ought to be restricted, or regulated, or legislated out of existence, or whatever.
We have that with the airways. We have it in the press. If conservatives feel that liberals dominate the press, you hear some conservatives saying, well, we ought to do something about that. If liberals think that Rush Limbaugh has too much influence, they say, what we ought to do is have legislation to solve that. If the United States senator thinks that one side is getting the upper hand in the Health Care debate as a Senator did at a press conference this year, he said, they are lying about the President's position. I'm going to have a law to prevent that kind of lying.
This is not atypical. It is partly because the people are human like the rest of us. If they get power in their hands, they want to use it to further their own agendas and prevent other people from furthering theirs. So it doesn't mean that they are worse than anybody else. Some of us might do the same sorts of things though. Without the power, we always say that we wouldn't.
The fact of the matter is that non-profit advocacy groups are really facing a serious threat. Some of it is simply the burdensome nature of the regulations. Some of it however is directed towards stifling the kinds of activities in which we are involved. The one thing that Congressmen can agree on regardless of party, regardless of ideology, is that they don't like to be harassed by their constituents.
They don't like to be bothered by people who demand that they do this, or do that, or don't do that, or don't do the other thing. That's one thing they can agree on. So, you can easily get a coalition of people in the Congress, in the Senate or the House, who don't like something that some advocacy group is doing in their district.
Last year, as you will recall, there was an attempt in the House and in the Senate to get advocacy groups to submit all of their contributor lists to the Internal Revenue. The coalition that tried to put that through consisted of people who, on the one hand, didn't like what the Sierra Club was doing, or on the other hand, didn't like what the American Conservative Union was doing, or didn't like what this group was doing.
But they all agreed that they could get together and create a little pain for all of these groups and perhaps make their lives a little more uncomfortable. Part of this is a response to something that Dick Dingman was talking about and that is the advances of technology. Ellie Smeal touched upon the same thing.
Twenty years ago, direct communication from advocacy groups to constituencies in local areas was not much of a threat to members of Congress or the Senate. There were local groups that had a little influence here and there. But lobbyists in 1960, or 1965, or even 1970 weren't much different from the people who cornered President Grant over at the Willard Hotel in the lobby and gave the profession that name.
Those are the kinds of people that Congressmen consider legitimate lobbyists. They may make their life miserable on occasions, but they do take them to play golf. They do give them gifts and they do help them finance their campaigns and raise money. So there is a benefit there to them.
Advocacy groups mostly just make their lives miserable because advocacy groups go to their constituents, the people who decide whether or not they are going to keep their job and they don't give them much but they educate their constituents.
Their constituents in turn contact their congressman and say, why did you do this or why don't you do that? And they don't even get to play golf. Now, twenty years ago, that wasn't much of a problem, but today computers, and mail, and the sophistication that has been developed, and these alternative ways of communicating with people have given advocacy groups and the people who care about the issues that they care about, clout, which makes an impact and which, frankly, restrains or restricts the ability of Congressmen and Senators to do just as they please or to respond to the folks who do take them golfing.
So, to put it bluntly, we are all a royal pain in the ass to every elected official in this country. Some of us bother some more than others. And we all bother different ones, but we bother them in total, completely. If we would go away, they'd be happy. If they can't get us to go away, they can certainly restrict that.
The Lobbying Disclosure Bill that Eleanor mentioned, contains provisions that could very well require every (C)4 that's involve in public policy issues lobbying to divulge its list of contributors, members, and supporters to the Federal Government; not just to the Federal Government, but this time to a special agency of the Federal Government set up to take care of these lists.
For forty years, advocacy groups have had a recognized constitutional interest in keeping those lists private ever since NAACP v. Alabama in 1958. If one thinks that what is going on is more than simple harassment, several questions have to be asked. The first one is, what overriding government purpose is served by passing a law establishing an office and paying some bureaucrats to force Eleanor Smeal to give up her contributor list? What overriding government purpose is solved? What purpose is so important that it requires trampling on her rights under the United States Constitution?
The fact of the matter is that there is no government purpose served by that. One thing it does do is make her life miserable so that the Congress can become just the sort of pain in the ass to her that she is to them. In many cases, that's what this is all about.
In many cases, these laws, while couched in terms of reform, these laws while sold as if they're designed to protect the political consumer are, in fact, designed to put some brake on the power and growth of groups that are dedicated to pushing issues, agendas on behalf of their members throughout the country.
I think we have to recognize that and I don't think that it's too cynical of me to say that that is the principle motivation. Last year, when we gathered in this room, somebody said, in fact, somebody from the Congress said that they didn't find it unreasonable that the Congress should regulate the color of the envelopes that we would use in making mailings. Remember that? We all laughed.
This year, President Clinton signed into law a bill that may very well empower the government to send you to jail if you use the wrong color envelope in one of your mailings. It's not a joke any more. It also limits your ability to do a lot of other things.
Within that law, it stated very clearly that if you do any of the things that the government doesn't like in any of these areas, that a disclaimer on your literature should not be taken into account by the courts in determining whether you are guilty or not.
Obviously, if we put a disclaimer on it, it's only because we're doing something wrong and want to get out of the punishment that is due us. We are not winning this fight and we're not winning it for a number of reasons. The first is clear in the coverage of these so-called reform efforts.
Very few people pay any attention to what's going on. Eleanor mentioned the fact that the discussion has all been about these gifts that Congressmen can or cannot take from lobbyists. Very little discussion about the fine print that affects us.
There's very little discussion of it because there's very little understanding of its importance. There is very little understanding of the way in which non-profit advocacy groups function. There's very little understanding of the way in which we all have to raise money. We would all be very pleased if we could just make a phone call and get our entire budget every year and the net that we raised from that effort would be tremendous. We can't do that.
Particularly, new groups, particularly smaller groups have to rely on their membership and supporters and that is very expensive. I can't tell you how many times in both political operations and advocacy operations I've received calls from reporters and I'm sure Eleanor has, too, who said, explain to me the way this mail works and how come it costs so much and how come the direct mail firm is getting this much money or how come you're spending this money to raise that much money.
It sounds outrageous to me. They say that because they don't get it. They don't understand. Public policy makers, the ones who are not out to get us, don't understand. So, the sale of provisions and laws and regulations that have a serious impact on our ability to function, the sale of those provisions is relatively easy because they are being sold to a consumer that doesn't get it.
Perhaps the disclaimers and perhaps the explanations ought to be required of the legislators that are trying to make that sale to these uninformed consumers. This coalition is vitally important because if we aren't going to be active, there really isn't anyone out there who isn't perceived as having his own axe to grind, and therefore, has credibility problems.
There won't be anyone out there who can say to the press and to the policy makers, wait a minute. What are the First Amendment implications of this? What about our right to function? Not only that, what about the function that we serve in an interactive democracy? What about the First Amendment? What about free speech and what about the motives of these people that are doing this? What about the impact of what they're doing?
I think that from the standpoint of every advocacy organization in the country, what we're doing here today and what the Free Speech Coalition is doing every day is of vital importance. When I say it's of vital importance to advocacy organizations, I'm really saying a lot more than that.
The vibrant nature of our democratic system today is largely dependent upon the activities of those groups from every end of the spectrum and on every issue. It is groups, advocacy groups that are reaching people in towns and cities around this country and getting them active in politics, getting them active in caring about what their government and their elected officials do.
Twenty years ago, elected officials and political scientists were complaining that Americans weren't active enough. They weren't involved enough. Now, they are getting involved and the result is that the political scientists say, well, this skews the system and elected officials say, we got to do something about it. They are too active. We have got to quiet them down.
Well, if they succeed in quieting them down, we suffer. The issues that we care about suffer and just as importantly, the country suffers. So, the Free Speech Coalition is important. Your participation in it is vital and what we're doing here today is crucial to what will happen legislatively in the regulatory arena and in the courts in the next year.
MS. SMEAL: Thank you. If you noticed in the agenda that was handed out, Senator Coverdell was supposed to be here and because the Senate is in session, he isn't here.
When I was listening to my colleagues on this panel, I was trying to think of real concrete illustrations, because a lot of people do get mad at the volume of mail while we think all we're doing is wasting money trying to reach people with the mail. They look at these groups that have a very small percentage of their budget is paid for fundraising and a lot of them are large, so-called charities.
I once did an analysis of the top 100 charities. Now, a charity in our country is what is called a 501(c)3, an organization which is tax exempt and tax deductible. An advocacy group is tax exempt; we don't pay any taxes but we are not tax deductible because we're trying to influence public policy.
Most of the 100 are, I think all of them are tax- exempt and tax deductible to their givers. But if you look at who their givers are, they have one major common denominator that I think the public would be shocked by if they knew. It is the reason that the percentage that they spend on fundraising is so low.
The top three groups, I think, receiving the biggest contributions are the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. Can you guess what the one major common denominator is that they have?
Their largest single contributor is the government. In other words, they don't have to send out as many direct mail public solicitation because they are getting money from the government. When I toured in Europe, European feminist groups couldn't get over this phenomena that we had these non-profit advocacy groups with which we have a public position.
We're trying to change things, shake it up or bring about movement and each of us have our own movement for a change. They kept asking us, where do we get our money. I would say, we send these letters out and we get on the phones. It's called telemarketing, direct mail and we ask people. We educate them according to our positions and they send it back. They were just astounded.
Most women's groups in Western Europe have entire budgets raised from the government. In other words, the government pays for the so-called public interest groups. Then, we wonder why there are not big movements for changes in certain countries. Could you imagine some folks funding some of us from the government? I mean, give me a break.
So, I don't think people realize that. I don't think they realize that when you see a small percentage of fundraising, it doesn't necessarily mean that that is a more effective, cost-effective administration. It just might mean it has one major donor or it might mean that it has a government donor or it might mean that it is endowed.
MR. KEENE: Eleanor, let me throw in another example we just discussed before the panel.
This summer, Senator Pryor appeared at a press conference sponsored by the National Council of Senior Citizens at which he attacked a number of groups, about a dozen of them including the American Conservative Union as direct mail scams. He said that their opposition to the President's programs was simply being done for profit reasons and he used as his evidence the fact that these groups are all raising money in the mail and spend too much raising money.
They then demanded that all these groups give them immediate access to their 990 forms and it was at this press conference that he said, I'm going to develop legislation to prevent this. We asked for the 990 form of the sponsoring organization, the National Council of Senior Citizens, a group that bills itself as an advocacy group with six million members.
The latest return we could get was from 1992, when this organization had a budget of $71 million. Of the $71 million, $69.5 million came from the Department of Labor. Every official of the organization was a retired labor union official.
This organization put out statements that these other groups were illegitimate because they spent too much of their money on fundraising. My reaction was, if I only had to send one letter every year to get 98 percent of my budget, I can tell you that our net would be very high. Unfortunately, most groups -- my organization, Eleanor's organization can't do that.
So, it's very important, first, that people do understand the way in which purely private, issue-oriented advocacy groups raise their funds and the fact, as Eleanor stated, that simply looking at a percentage as some states attempted to get regulations enforcing that were in fact struck down by the Supreme Court a few years ago, but simply looking at that is an absurd way of evaluating either the public support that a group has or the efficiency of its operations because most of it may come from the government or from one contributor, from one millionaire.
I know that Stuart Mott's organizations, for example, have a much higher net for the amount of money they send on fundraising than you do or I do. He has every right to do that. There are conservatives who do the same thing. That doesn't mean somehow that they are more legitimate than people who go out and depend on their membership for funds that they have
MS. SMEAL: You know, only about eight percent of the American public belongs to these groups and part of the reason is, we don't have enough. So, we want to make much more exchange, much more action and a free marketplace of ideas.
Thank you very much.
MR. SEGERMARK: My name is Howard Segermark.
While our next panel is coming up here, I want to announce the first cloture vote on the Lobby Disclosure Act.
Cloture was defeated 46 to 52. They needed 63 and they only got 52 votes.
That's where Senator Coverdell is right