Grassroots Lobbying Protected
Over the past five months, Home School Legal Defense Association and organizations from across the political spectrum have achieved a historic victory that would have been impossible without the active help of hundreds of thousands of homeschoolers and other concerned citizens.
This victory is the protection of grassroots lobbying from federal control.
Grassroots lobbying is the technical name for contacting citizens about an issue and asking them to call or write their elected representatives—the type of work that advocacy organizations (like HSLDA), homeschool support groups, churches, and other entities do. This type of lobbying was used by homeschoolers and homeschool supporters in 1994 to defeat the national teacher certification requirement in H.R. 6.
COMMUNICATING WITH OUR
IS ONE OF THE HALLMARKS
OF OUR SYSTEM OF
The battle to defend grassroots lobbying started in January 2007 when Senate Bill 1
(S. 1), a lobbying reform bill, was introduced in the U.S. Senate. As a bipartisan issue, lobbying reform has widespread support, especially in the wake of recent scandals such as the one involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A powerful federal lobbyist, Abramoff was recently convicted and sentenced to jail on fraud and corruption charges related to his lobbying and fundraising activities.
S. 1, however, contained a section that would have required any organization that engaged in “grassroots lobbying” to register and file a quarterly report with the federal government. Heavy penalties would have been levied against the organization if it failed to register and file. The wording of this section was so broad that it could have even been used against small homeschool support groups or churches that forwarded an email from HSLDA on to their members asking them to call Congress about an issue. Merely the threat of this possibility could have prevented many entities from spreading the word about dangerous legislation and asking citizens to contact Congress.
HSLDA and a coalition of organizations from across the political
spectrum set out to defeat the grassroots lobbying provision. Pressure was kept on the Senate, emails went out in flurries to citizens, and calls began pouring into Senate offices. The calls worked. On January 11, 2007, the Senate voted to strip the grassroots lobbying provision from S. 1.
The battle then switched to the U.S. House of Representatives. After many false starts,
the House leadership finally unveiled their lobbying reform bill on May 15, 2007. Two days later, the House Judiciary Committee held a “mark up” of the bill. (A “mark up” is the technical name for the committee meeting where the bill is amended before the committee votes to send the bill to the floor of the House for a final vote.) HSLDA and the coalition were alerted to the likelihood that an amendment would be introduced at the mark up which would again attempt to regulate organizations that engage in grassroots lobbying.
Again, homeschoolers and concerned citizens called their representatives, urging them to vote against any attempts to regulate grassroots lobbying. As expected, a bill (aka H.R. 2093) which would have placed regulations on grassroots lobbying, was introduced as an amendment to S. 1. Many House Judiciary Committee members stated that their offices had received large volumes of phone calls, emails, and letters urging protection for grassroots lobbying. In a quick bipartisan voice vote, the House Judiciary Committee defeated the grassroots lobbying amendment. The committee then passed the lobbying reform bill, which promptly headed to the full House free of any dangerous language.
There was still a chance that the bill would be amended again on the floor of the U.S. House. However, on May 24, the full House approved the lobbying reform bill without any regulations on grassroots lobbying.
It seems unbelievable that members of Congress would try to regulate how ordinary citizens—the voters—receive word of important federal legislation and make their voices heard. The ability of citizens to make informed communication with their elected representatives is one of the hallmarks of our system of government. Thanks to the work of citizens like you, a dangerous attempt to begin regulating citizens and grassroots entities was defeated. HSLDA will continue to keep you informed so that together we can protect our right to make our voices heard.
|About the author
Will Estrada is HSLDA’s director of federal relations.