Dobson and the ACLU: In Bed At Last

Sooner or later, they say, everyone needs a little help from the American Civil Liberties Union.

This week Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and the Reverend Louis Sheldon of the American Family Coalition have found themselves on the same team as the ACLU, the group that Sheldon usually likes to call “the Anti-God Left.”

Specifically targeted is Section 220 of Senate Bill 1, which would require grassroots groups to register as lobbyists if they spend a certain amount of money and time rallying the masses to flood Congress with their special interest causes.Dobson’s daily radio show, taped at his ministry’s Colorado Springs headquarters. is heard by 220 million people around the globe every day, including on more than 3,400 radio stations in North America.

But the child psychologist dispenses much more than helpful advice on problem bedwetters; Dobson has the ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters to flood the Capitol switchboard in Washington to weigh in on proposed legislation. In the recent past, for example, Dobson has rallied the troops on issues ranging from the Man-Woman-Only Marriage Resolution to so-called partial birth abortion to support for the nomination of Harriet Miers-oooops-Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dobson devoted his Jan. 10 radio program to the topic, and invited guests from similarly-minded organizations – the American Family Association, Family Research Council Action and American Values – to talk about the ill-advised” section of the lobbying reform bill and what listeners can do … which is to flood the Capitol switchboard with calls of protest.

Sheldon, of the Traditional Values Coalition, has warned supporters that the proposal would likely stifle free speech. The ACLU agrees, and in a Jan. 17 letter to the U.S. Senate, Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, and Marvin Johnson, Legislative Counsel, asked lawmakers to strike Section 220 and  instead support the Bennett Amendment to Senate Bill 1, also called the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007.

The ACLU letter reads In part:

Section 220, entitled “Disclosure of Paid Efforts to Stimulate Grassroots Lobbying” imposes onerous reporting requirements that will chill constitutionally protected activity. Advocacy organizations large and small would now find their communications to the general public about policy matters redefined as lobbying and therefore subject to registration and quarterly reporting. Failure to register and report could have severe civil and potentially criminal sanctions.

Section 220 would apply to even small, state grassroots organizations with no lobbying presence in Washington. When faced with burdensome registration and reporting requirements, some of these organizations may well decide that silence is the best option.

The right to petition the government is “one of the most precious of the liberties safeguarded by the Bill of Rights.” When viewed through this prism, the thrust of the grassroots lobbying regulation is at best misguided, and at worst would seriously undermine the basic freedom that is the cornerstone of our system of government.

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Cara Degette

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