The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted 7 to 5 yesterday to narrow the lobby disclosure bill, but it may reconsider the vote next week.
The bill as drafted by a subcommittee would require disclosure of names of organizations -- but not individuals -- that contribute $3,000 or more in a year to an organization lobbying on legislation. Sponsors contend that the public has a right to know who is financing a lobbying operation.
But Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) led a fight against the provision on grounds that efforts to enforce the law might lead to disclosure of individual membership lists. That would be a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech and association, he said. Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), who agreed with Mathias, expressed concern that, in a town where all the leading citizens supported nuclear power, a resident might suffer if it became known that he had given money to an antinuclear cause.
Committee Chairman Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) said opposition to disclosing contributors comes from "do-good organizations who get big contributions from guilt-ridden liberals who may not want their associates to know it." Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) cited -- as an example of the need to know the identity of contributors -- an organization called Citizens for Government Fairness, which he said is financed by big landowners in California fighting to continue to get federally subsidized irrigation water.
Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.) offered a compromise that would require disclosure of names of contributing organizations but not the amount they gave. The bill would require listing amounts in categories, such as between $25,000 and $50,000.
Durenberger lost, 6 to 4, and Mathias' amendment to strike out the entire provision was adopted 7 to 5. But Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), author of the draft bill, who had voted against Durenberger in hopes of preserving his bill intact, moved to reconsider the vote so he could vote for Durenberger in place of Mathias. When Ribicoff questioned the form of some proxy votes Mathias had obtained from absent members, Mathias made a point of order that the committee did not have permission to meet while the Senate was in session. Further action was put off until next week.
Earlier this week the committee adopted a Mathias amendment to exempt grass-roots lobbying -- groups urging individuals to write their legislators. This and disclosure are the two most controversial issues in the bill. The House Judiciary Committee deleted both.