Federal Relations

February 11, 2002

First Amendment Liberties at Stake: Calls Needed Before Wednesday

Dear HSLDA Members and Friends,

This week, the House of Representatives will take up the Shays-Meehan Campaign Reform Bill, House Resolution 2356. This legislation will make numerous changes to the laws governing the financing of campaigns and election practices. In its current form, the bill will severely hinder the ability of advocacy groups, such as local and state home school organizations, from discussing issues with their elected federal senators and representatives.


Please call your congressman IMMEDIATELY and give him or her this message:

"Please vote against H.R. 2356, the Shays-Meehan Campaign Reform Bill. This bill restricts the free speech rights of Americans to talk with their elected representatives through advocacy organizations. Specifically, we do not need to broaden the definition of what is 'coordination' between an advocacy organization and an elected official."

Since this issue applies to all Americans, there is no need to identify yourself as a home schooler.

Please keep the calls coming through Thursday, February 14.


This week, Congress is set to consider large changes to our nation's laws governing the financing of campaigns and election practices (see "CURRENT LAW" below for a brief description of current law). The bill is coming to a vote in the House, over the objections of House leadership, because a majority of representatives have signed a petition demanding a vote to be held. It is therefore highly likely that the bill will pass. The "headline" issue in the bill is the limiting of so-called "soft money" contributions. The bill contains numerous other provisions, such as raising the amount which may be given in so-called "hard money" contributions, increasing restrictions on issue advocacy, and broadening the current restrictions on coordinated activities between advocacy groups and candidates.

Note: This bill is subject to change as numerous amendments have been made in order.


Under current law, advocacy groups such as home school organizations are allowed to make independent expenditures in an election campaign. For example, a home school group may issue a press release highlighting a home school issue. However, to be independent, these expenditures must not be coordinated with the candidate. In addition, they may not call for the election or defeat of a candidate. Under Shays-Meehan, the term "coordination" would be broadened to include activity pursuant to a "general understanding," regardless of whether there is any express advocacy. Under this broader standard, candidates and advocacy groups would have to use extreme caution in conversing about issues of mutual concern. Such a broad standard on coordination gives rise to a chilling effect on free speech, as well as makes possible nuisance complaints filed merely for the headlines they would obtain.


Many advocacy organizations that run advertising on issues are concerned with new disclosure requirements. Shays-Meehan would now mandate disclosure of "electioneering communications" exceeding a total of $10,000 per year. If an advocacy organization runs such ads within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary, that organization would have to disclose its high donors. Such disclosure would discourage many from participating in the political process. For example, a pro-life employee might be unwilling to contribute if his pro-choice boss were to be able to know that the employee was a contributor to pro-life causes. While HSLDA does not presently engage in this type of issue advocacy, such an infringement on free speech should not go without comment.


Elections in the United States are heavily regulated. The amount of money that can be given, who can spend it, and how it is spent are all governed by law. There are many players in elections: candidates, political parties, political action committees (PACs), individuals, advocacy groups, unions, and businesses. All have specific regulations regarding what is permissible conduct.

Current law generally revolves around how money may be used in a campaign, and breaks down in the following manner:

  • Candidates may spend their own money for their own election, without limitation;

  • Candidates cannot directly accept money from unions or businesses;

  • Candidates can receive support from individuals and PACs (a pooled group with a common bond), but the funding is limited to specific dollar amounts, for example $5000 per PAC, $2000 per individual, per cycle;

  • Candidates can receive direct help from a political party, but the political party can only do so from contributions made to the party by individuals or PACs (so-called "hard money" contributions);

  • Candidates can receive indirect help from a political party through the political party's "issue ads" and get-out-the-vote efforts. These efforts can be funded by contributions from businesses or individuals to the party for party building (so-called "soft money" contributions); and

  • Candidates cannot receive contributions from advocacy groups, but such groups may promote an issue so long as express advocacy is avoided, and that such activities by the advocacy group are not coordinated with the candidate. This is referred to as an independent expenditure.


    Thomas Washburne
    HSLDA's National Center for Home Education