Update: The Bennett Amendment striking Section 220 from bill S.1 has passed, and the votes were virtually down party lines. Link via Instapundit.
I just finished a blogger conference call with Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) on the subject of earmark and lobbying reform. While I was waiting for the call to begin, I saw Jim’s post below about Harry Reid’s little gift to bloggers, Section 220 of lobbying and earmark reform bill S.1. Section 220 of that bill, which already passed the senate by the way, would force bloggers who communicate to more than 500 members to register as a lobbyist with the government or face a $100,000 fine and/or prison time.
Here is the language at issue:
SEC. 220. DISCLOSURE OF PAID EFFORTS TO STIMULATE GRASSROOTS LOBBYING.
(a) Definitions- Section 3 of the Act (2 U.S.C. 1602) is amended–
(1) in paragraph (7), by adding at the end of the following: `Lobbying activities include paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying, but do not include grassroots lobbying.’; and
(2) by adding at the end of the following:
`(17) GRASSROOTS LOBBYING- The term `grassroots lobbying’ means the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same.
`(18) PAID EFFORTS TO STIMULATE GRASSROOTS LOBBYING-
`(A) IN GENERAL- The term `paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying’ means any paid attempt in support of lobbying contacts on behalf of a client to influence the general public or segments thereof to contact one or more covered legislative or executive branch officials (or Congress as a whole) to urge such officials (or Congress) to take specific action with respect to a matter described in section 3(8)(A), except that such term does not include any communications by an entity directed to its members, employees, officers, or shareholders.
`(B) PAID ATTEMPT TO INFLUENCE THE GENERAL PUBLIC OR SEGMENTS THEREOF- The term `paid attempt to influence the general public or segments thereof’ does not include an attempt to influence directed at less than 500 members of the general public.
The issue is many blogs make some money via advertising, sometimes from grassroots organizations. Many blogs like Wizbang, also try to influence the general public, i.e. their readers on policy issues such as this one. The language of Section 220 is vague enough that blogs could fall under the purview of this law, making some bloggers required to register with the government as a lobbyist.
I asked Senator DeMint if it was true that Section 220 could force grassroots groups, including bloggers, to register with the US government as lobbyists. To me, this whole thing sounds so goofy that it had to have been misreported, but Senator DeMint said that from what he can tell, Section 220 could actually cause bloggers to be defined as a grassroots organization.
Tonight, the Senate votes on an amendment sponsored by Republican Bill Bennett to strip Section 220 from S.1. and The Hill is reporting that Senator John McCain, who previously supported Section 220, has publicly announced that he will vote to strip the offending section from the bill. Smart move, as Senator McCain, who is running for president, is not in good standing the conservative base of the Republican party because of his Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The Hill piece also provides this quote, which is a good summary of the issue:
“Under Section 220, anyone who is paid anything by an organization that spends any money at all to encourage more than 500 members of the general public to communicate with members of Congress, if he or she also has contacted congressional offices directly as few as two times, and has spent as little as 20 percent of his or her time on such direct lobbying and grassroots-motivating activities, would be required to register with Congress as a ‘lobbyist’ and file detailed quarterly reports,” wrote Johnson in a letter to Senate offices, adding, “If enacted, it will disrupt the constitutionally protected activities of thousands of issue-oriented citizen groups from coast to coast. …”
Even the ACLU has teamed up with the Traditional Values Coalition to fight Reid’s attempt to silence his critics.