Revisiting Grassroots Lobbying Disclosure
by Amanda Adams*
Aug 12, 2009
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, who opposed the House passed climate change bill remains under attack for sending fake letters to House lawmakers. The firm sent out letters using the names of an N.A.A.C.P. chapter and a network of nonprofit organizations serving Latinos. Reportedly, more nonprofits' names were used including the American Association of University Women and the Jefferson Area Board for the Aging.
In addition, questions surround the outrage Members are facing from angry constituents at town hall meetings across the country. These recent events, which may or may not cause the image of lobbyists to further plummet, brings to light the lack of transparency in grassroots advocacy. The Hill recalls the efforts groups made, including OMB Watch, to get grassroots lobbying disclosure included in the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA.) Current events are now highlighting the very reason we advocated for such disclosure.
As the article describes, well funded grassroots firms do not have to register their activities and expenses. "Those groups that use increasingly sophisticated tools to gin up public outrage or support for an issue have to disclose little about their activities. That means hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to influence the political process goes unreported."
In 2007 Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Carl Levin (D-MI) had a proposed provision to the HLOGA that "would have triggered reporting requirements only if an entity had spent $25,000 or more a quarter on the grassroots campaign. Groups like the National Rifle Association would not have to report the communications they sent to their own members." Further, a later version would have exempted nonprofit groups altogether, even if they paid for grassroots messages that went beyond their membership. In the end, the Senate supported an amendment from Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) to strike the language from the bill.
"Given the limited disclosure rules, it is impossible to estimate just how much is spent on grassroots advocacy, real or fake. Some observers believe it could be much larger than the $3 billion direct lobbying business. It seems certain, though, that the grassroots advocacy business is booming."
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