"LOBBY DISCLOSURE" is deceptive term. It sounds like a splendid good-government cause, but it can easily involve all sorts of undesirable - and probably unconsitutional - interference with citizens' rights to organize, communicate on issues and petition Congress. The House largely ignored those problems when it passed a sweeping lobby-disclosure bill this spring. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee showed more sense and sensitivity when it suspended work on the subject in May. Today, however, committee chairman Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) plans to bring the matter up again, in part because the Carter administration wants the Senate to act this year.
There would be merit in a lobbying-registration bill that confined itself to requiring better reports from people paid to lobby Congress in the traditional way, through direct contacts with lawmakers and their staffs. The bills favored by Sen. Ribicoff and the administration, however, reach far beyond that to encompass so-called indirect or grass-roots lobbying that involves trying to influence Congress by running advertisements or generating calls, mail and visits from people back home.
There is no question that this form of issue-oriented campaigning has become effective and intense. There is also no question, so far as we know, that it is perfectly legitimate. The advocates of extensive disclosure may point to the recent Senate fights over laborlaw changes and the Panama Canal treaties as examples of how expensive and overwhelming grass-roots efforts have become. But that experience also shows, we think, that legislators, journalists and interested groups can easily find out a lot about the scope and sponsorship of various letter-writing and senator-visiting campaigns - without imposing intrusive, burdensome reporting rules on virtually every union, company and citizen's group engaged in public affairs.
Sens. Edmund Muskie (D-Maine) and Charles Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) are leading the fight to keep any lobby-reporting bill within sensible bounds. In May they seemed to have considerable committee support. We hope that, this time around, even more senators will recognize the dangerous potential for stifling free political activity, and put the sweeping bills back on the shelf.