Senate Democrats to America: 'Shut Up!'

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I write this
as a former Capitol Hill staffer. I have been there, done that.

I am reporting
on this matter because, if Democrats (and Trent Lott) in the United
States Senate get their way, it may be illegal for me to say this
or anything like this, beginning on January 1, 2008.

If you want
to know what is the highest priority of the new Congress, don’t
watch TV. Don’t listen to the posturing of politicians in high places
regarding the war in Iraq, the safety of Americans from terror,
and the plight of the poor. As Attorney General John Mitchell said,
before he went to jail: “Watch what we do, not what we say.”

I can tell
you what the highest priority of Democrats in the United States
Senate is. How do I know? Because the Senate has labeled the following
piece of proposed legislation, Senate Bill S1. That’s numero uno.
The bill’s title: “To provide greater transparency in the legislative

When you see
a high-falutin title like this, you can be certain of one thing:
Its promoters intend the opposite.

The proposed
bill is long and detailed. It is not the product of some immediate
national crisis. It is the product of many months of careful crafting
in the shadows. It received no publicity, before or after it was
submitted. The Democratic leadership in the Senate has entered this
bill as its top priority.


What is this
bill all about? Simple: taking heat off of Congress.

From Congress’s
point of view, there is a growing problem. That problem is the Internet.
It allows people to communicate with each other almost free of charge.

An email can
be sent to a million people at little or no marginal cost. A mailing
list becomes a tool of instant education and motivation.

All over the
wired world, politicians are finding that every government leak
gets to a large audience within hours. I call this the Drudge-Lewinsky

Every audience
has a hot button. Politicians today cannot pass any bill, short
of a national emergency, in which they do not inevitably press some
special-interest group’s negative hot button.

If people
on an email list are alerted to what the politicians are planning
to do to them, they will in turn send an email, phone their representatives,
or even — I am not making this up — sit down, write a letter of
protest, put it in an envelope, stamp the envelope, and mail it
to their political representative. (Yes, such things are still done.
Or so I’m told.)

Worse, from
the politicians’ point of view, the Internet allows organizations
to remind people on their mailing lists which politicians voted
the wrong way. The subscribers would normally forget within six
months, but not if they keep getting reminded.

The Internet
makes it cheap to remind them.

The Internet
is therefore a tool of voters to impose their will on recalcitrant
politicians. So far, the politicians have been powerless to stop

This is about
to change.


You know the
term “grassroots.” It is one of the traditional terms of endearment
in American democracy. (It does not resonate in Arab oil nations,
where there is neither democracy nor grass.) “Grassroots” means
“back home, where the voters are.” It means, above all, OUTSIDE

Inside the
beltway, the free ride has officially ended for the adjective, “grassroots.”
The term is being re-defined by Democrats in the Senate . . . and
Trent Lott. It now means “special-interest lobbying.”

We all know
what incumbent politicians think of the special interests, at least
the special interests that vote rather than set up Political Action
Committees (PACs) to hand out money to politicians. Senator Snort
is always ready to denounce the special interests — those narrow-minded, single-issue, red hot-button special pleaders, those ideological
fanatics who cannot be bought off with pork barrel largesse.

The special-interest
groups that provoke the ire of politicians are the ones that do
not write checks but who instead send emails to their representatives.
These groups are mobilized into action, more often than not, by
negative reactions. Their subscribers are negative single-issue

groups that set up PACs are part of the Capitol Hill club. They
get lots of money from well-organized beneficiaries of special
legislation. They hire lots of lawyers. They hire former Congressmen.
This offers lifetime income prospects for incumbent politicians
who lose elections. (Yes, this still occasionally happens, despite
Gerrymandering.) They have staffs to fill out Federally mandated
forms. They write checks. Do they ever write checks! They are not
grassroots special interests. They are inside-the-beltway special
interests. So, they are not defined as special interests. They are
defined as “sources of expert information, which is vital to the
legislative process.”

problem with grassroots negative special-interest groups is two-fold:
(1) they can inflict pain on election day on any politician who
has voted the wrong way; (2) they rarely send money to the re-election
campaign committees of those who voted the right way. They are all
pain, no pleasure. In the eyes of incumbent politicians, they are
a menace to society, a cancer on the body politic, a mockery of
democracy as we have come to know it.

They must
be stopped!

Hence, Section

Here are a
few highlights. First, a definition:

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.

You know the
types: people who conclude that a piece of legislation is against
their interests, and who then try to defeat the legislation by communicating
their hostile views to their elected representatives. Vicious!

Millions of
these people have signed up to receive emails from donor-supported
organizations that help alert them when Congress submits a bill
for consideration. They do not usually join these organizations.
They probably do not donate money. They are classic free riders.
But the organizations need them, because these people will take
action to stop a proposed piece of legislation.

These organizations
attempt to coordinate the efforts of non-member, non-donating email
subscribers — called “the general public” — by keeping
them informed by email. In the eyes of Democrats in the Senate (and
Trent Lott), such organizations are not quite criminal conspiracies,
but they are close . . . very close. You see, these organizations
get paid to keep the general public informed. Paid! Can you imagine

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.

This wording
says that they may communicate to their members without being defined
as grassroots lobbying organizations, but not to the general public.

This bill
says that before any such organization communicates to the general
public, it must fill out Federal forms. It must fill out even more
forms after it communicates to the general public.

If it fails
to honor this law, if enacted, a donor-supported entity can be
hauled into court by an Executive agency and fined $100,000 if it
cannot prove that a particular email alert was never intended to
persuade members of “the general public” to contact members of Congress.

The costs
of hiring the defense lawyers will probably exceed the fine.

If your group
is small, there is no problem. Small groups are politically impotent
and do not constitute a threat to incumbents. Therefore. . . .
— 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.

So, if your
email list has under 500 people, your organization are safe. For
now. But you may have to prove that you have fewer than 500 non-member
names of your list. The Executive will insist that its has the legal
authority to demand that you turn over that list, just to make sure
it is under 500 names. It will then have to compare this list with
the names of your members. You will hand all this over or be fined
for contempt.

There is another
problem. A Web site is aimed at the general public. It may not be
not members-only.

I operate
a Web site,,
that has a public section and a members-only section. According
to this bill, I am allowed to communicate my concern about a proposed
bill to my site’s members. But what if I try to communicate the
same message on the open-access portion of my site? How could I
prove that I am not trying to influence over 500 members of the
general public?

I get paid
by site members. So, if I ever mention a piece of legislation on
the “general public” part of my site, does this payment by members
make me a grassroots lobbyist? How much will it cost me in legal
fees to prove that I’m not?

You are reading
this letter. You are probably not a member of my Web site. You are
not my employee. You are not an officer or a shareholder in my corporation
(unless you are my wife). But I have now sent you a warning about
a proposed bill. I strongly suggest that you contact both of your
Senators to tell them that you oppose S1.

They pay more
attention to letters than to emails. So, here is the address:

Senator XXX

Senate Office

D.C. 20510

A low-level
staffer will then send you a polite form letter assuring you how
much the Senator appreciates hearing from you, and how he will consider
your opinion very carefully before he votes.

Rest assured,
there is a computer data base that records YES and NO letters on
each bill. Your opinion regarding S1 is very important to your Senator
if there is a large majority in the data base of voters in your
state who share your opinion.


If the form
letter tells you that you have misinterpreted the bill, that it
means something else entirely — which means that your Senator plans
to vote for it — remember this: An Executive agency can enforce
a law any way it sees fit.

Congress has
no direct power over Executive agencies. This is part of the separation
of powers principle of the U.S. Constitution. A law that is crystal
clear, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which said explicitly
that there would be no government-enforced racial quotas, will be
interpreted however an “administrative law judge” (in-house agency
prosecutor) wants to interpret the law in your case. This law is
anything but crystal clear.

If an organization
spends money to run an ad in a newspaper in order to influence the
general public, it is clearly at risk under the terms of this law.
It must report the expenditure to the Federal government. No organization
is excluded from having to send reports on its actions.

In the event income or expenses do not exceed $10,000, the registrant
shall include a statement that income or expenses totaled less than
$10,000 for the reporting period.

Of course,
this law is specifically designed to increase the ethics of incumbent
politicians and their staffs.

Training Program — The Select Committee on Ethics shall conduct
ongoing ethics training and awareness programs for Members of the
Senate and Senate staff.

Stop that
giggling. You hear me? Stop it this instant! This is serious.


So far, this
bill has received little attention by the thousands of special interest
groups that will become its potential victims if it is signed into
law. The mainstream media have said nothing, but this is not surprising.
This is “buried deep in a bill” material, and the mainstream media
rarely report on most of the hundreds of bills that are introduced
each year.

A few conservative
activist groups have issued warnings. Here is the assessment of
the bill by the American Family Association. As
you read it, think of this
: What would it cost the organization
to track all this?”

Senate Bill 1, AFA would have to report the issues, employees, contractors
and dollars spent in what is called “paid efforts to stimulate grassroots
lobbying” (that phrase is not defined). This reporting requirement
is triggered by two actions: (1) a lobbying “contact” — a personal
or written communication with an individual in the executive or
legislative branch of the federal government concerning public policy
issues, from legislation to nominations; and (2) communications
with grassroots (that’s you) that “influence” them to contact the
executive or legislative branches (“influence” is not defined, but
it apparently doesn’t even have to include a specific “call to action.”)
There is no minimum dollar spending requirement that triggers the
reporting requirement by AFA for our efforts to stimulate grassroots

Once AFA
identifies a “lobbying contact” that it has had (e.g., We talk
with a senator about a Supreme Court nomination), then AFA will
have to track all internal expenditures on that issue: AFA Journal
articles, printing costs, payments to authors, etc.; AFA Online
e-mailing costs; special website creations; broadcast expenses;
and issue advertising (creative costs, ad buys, etc.). Cost of
trips, speeches, and fundraising letters will have to be allocated
to the correct “issue.” (We could be dealing with a half-dozen
issues, and we will have to keep tract and expense of every issue
we deal with.) The compliance costs alone will be heavy, with
the hiring of perhaps as many as 8—10 new employees to track
both accounting and legal oversight involved and all the paperwork

is the assessment by the conservative Family Research Council.

Research Council President Tony Perkins said Section 220 would subject
such groups to miles of red tape and greatly increase their costs
— difficulties that could critically hamper their ability to rally
constituents to contact their elected officials.

“This should
be called the ‘Silence the Citizens Act of 2007,’ ” Perkins said.

The bill
is so complex that, even though it appears to exempt churches
from its provisions, it might not actually do so.

“Even pastors
who would encourage the members of their congregation to call
their senators, their congressmen, about marriage, about life
issues,” Perkins said, “could theoretically fall under the provisions
of this measure.”

Amanda Banks,
federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said the
provision would apply if a group called on people to take action
or not.

“Any time
that we send out a CitizenLink e-mail, or we write an article
for Citizen magazine or Dr. Dobson goes on his broadcast and talks
about legislation — like he did today — we would have
to record and report to the government four times a year,” Banks
said. “If we did not meet those guidelines, we would be subject
to fines of $100,000.”


The Democrats
in the Senate (and Trent Lott) do not want to hear from you. They
want to go about their business — and it IS a business! —
in a quiet, orderly, and undisturbed manner.

it’s Iraq or the minimum wage, whether it’s homeland security or
the latest piece of pork for the contractors back home, they don’t
want to hear from you. They want your vote every six years. They
do not want your opinion in between.

18, 2007

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
He is also the author of a free 19-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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