The House voted yesterday to require reporting of so-called grass-roots lobbying efforts by organizations covered under a lobby disclosure bill now on the floor.
This grass-roots lobbying generally consists of trying to pressure Congress by ue of mass mailings or advertising to generate a large volume of mail from back home on an issue.
In recent years it has become an important lobbying technique used by groups ranging from environmentalists and "public interest" organizations to business and labor. Business-generated mail was widely credited with helping to defeat consumer protection agency legislation and a bill expanding construction site picketing in this session.
Rep. Benjamin Rosenthal (D-N.Y.) said during debate yesterday a subcommittee he heads has determined that grass-roots lobbying now accounts for half the expenditures for lobbying nationwide.
Under the amendment adopted by Rep. Walter Flowers (D-Ala.) by a 245 to 161 vote, organizations required to register as lobbyists under the bill or their affiliates would have to report grass-roots lobbying efforts by mass mailings and other means if they were expected to reach more than 500 people, or a certain number of directors, employes or affiliates within the organization.If an ad costing more than $500 was used to generate the mail, it would have to be reported.
If an organization did not meet the test of a lobbyist under the bill it would not have to report grass-roots lobbying efforts.
The amendment was opposed by a coalition of conservatives and liberals and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Chamber of Commerce. Common Cause, labor and Ralph Nader's Congress Watch supported the amendment.
The ACLU, which had been supporting the bill, switched to opposing it after adoption of the amendment. John Shattuck, director of the ACLU'S Washington office, said the amendment would "significantly curtail the ability of citizens to communicate with their elected representatives."
Another major amendment would have required registered organizations which spent more than 1 percent of their budget on lobbying to name contributors who gave them more than $3,000. It was defeated by a headcount vote of 41 to 26. Supporters of the amendment argued disclosure would reveal whether seemingly public interest groups were infact fronts for special interests.
But opponents argued disclosure would have a chilling affect on contributions to controversial organizations, such as civil rights groups, and would probably be an invasion of privacy and unconstitutional.
The bill the House is considering, and is expected to continue work on today, seeks to tighten a 1946 lobby disclosure law that required only those whose principle business was lobbying to register and report their expenditures.
That standard left a wide loophole, since major organizations That major organizations and companies, such as oil firms, often did not have to register as lobbyists.
Under the bill on the House floor, an organization would have to register if it had one or two employes spending a certain amount of time lobbying and if they spent $2,500 in a quarter on lobbying, or if they paid a retainer $2,500 in a quarter to lobby for them. Lobbyists who had to register also would be required to report their expenses and activities.