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|HSLDA News||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.
HSLDA'S SPECIFIC OBJECTION:
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:
HSLDA's National Center for Home Education