[FoRK] Not so free speech

Gregory Alan Bolcer gbolcer at endeavors.com
Tue Mar 30 17:02:39 PST 2004

1) Fairness Doctrine is FCC, not FEC.  There's a differnece of 1 letter.
2) MoveOne was caught under current campaign finance laws for sending
    out a candidate advocacy while claiming they were candidate agnostic.
3) It's no surprise that they are trying to save their collective asses with
    this tripe as the fines could abolish the whole organization. 
4) I think the words you are looking for are "Mayflower Doctrine" which
   would probably be just as unconsitutional as current campaign finance laws. 
5) I still think you are a complete idiot.  

	-----Original Message----- 
	From: fork-bounces at xent.com on behalf of Contempt for Meatheads 
	Sent: Tue 3/30/2004 4:23 PM 
	To: FoRK 
	Subject: [FoRK] Not so free speech

	If they really wanted to solve the problem correctly, they'd just 
	re-institute the Doctrine of Fairness...
	Begin forwarded message:
	From: "Wes Boyd, MoveOn.org" <moveon-help at list.moveon.org>
	Date: March 30, 2004 5:57:25 PM CST
	Subject: Republicans trying to gag nonprofits
	  Dear MoveOn member,
	  Are you involved in a local or national non-profit or public interest 
	organization? As a leader or board director or member? Please read this 
	message carefully, because your organization could be facing a serious 
	  The Republican National Committee is pressing the Federal Election 
	Commission ("FEC") to issue new rules that would cripple groups that 
	dare to communicate with the public in any way critical of President 
	Bush or members of Congress. Incredibly, the FEC has just issued -- for 
	public comment -- proposed rules that would do just that. Any kind of 
	non-profit -- conservative, progressive, labor, religious, secular, 
	social service, charitable, educational, civic participation, 
	issue-oriented, large, and small -- could be affected by these rules.
	  By the way, one thing FEC's proposed rules do not affect is the 
	donations you may have made in the past or may make now to MoveOn.org 
	or to the MoveOn.org Voter Fund. They are aimed at activist non-profit 
	groups, not donors.
	  Operatives in Washington are displaying a terrifying disregard for the 
	values of free speech and openness which underlie our democracy. 
	Essentially, they are willing to pay any price to stop criticism of 
	Bush administration policy.
	  We've attached materials below to help you make a public comment to 
	the FEC before the comment period ends on APRIL 9th. Your comment could 
	be very important, because normally the FEC doesn't get much public 
	  Public comments to the FEC are encouraged by email at
	    politicalcommitteestatus at fec.gov
	  Comments should be addressed to Ms. Mai T. Dinh, Acting Assistant 
	General Counsel, and must include the full name, electronic mail 
	address, and postal service address of the commenter.
	  More details can be found at:
	We'd love to see a copy of your public comment. Please email us a copy 
	at FECcomment at moveon.org.
	  Whether or not you're with a non-profit, we also suggest you ask your 
	representatives to write a letter to the FEC opposing the rule change.
	  Some key points:
	  - Campaign finance reform was not meant to gag public interest 
	  - Political operatives are trying to silence opposition to Bush policy.
	  - The Federal Election Commission has no legal right to treat 
	non-profit interest groups as political committees. Congress and the 
	courts have specifically considered and rejected such regulation.
	  Please let us know you're calling, at:
	In a non-election year, this kind of administrative overreach would 
	never find support. It goes far beyond any existing law or precedent. 
	It is a serious threat to the fundamental checks and balances in our 
	system. But because of an unholy alliance between a few campaign reform 
	groups and GOP partisans, this rule change could actually happen if we 
	don't act now.
	  I've attached more details below, prepared by our attorneys and by the 
	FEC Working Group -- a group of more than 500 respected non-profit 
	  If you run a non-profit, don't assume this change doesn't apply to 
	NONPROFIT GROUPS section below. It's outrageous.
	  Thanks for all you do,
	  --Wes Boyd
	    March 30th, 2004
	Under the proposed rules, nonprofit organizations that advocate for 
	cancer research, gun and abortion restrictions or rights, fiscal 
	discipline, tax reform, poverty issues, immigration reform, the 
	environment, or civil rights or liberties - all these organizations 
	could be transformed into political committees if they criticize or 
	commend members of Congress or the President based on their official 
	actions or policy positions.
	  Such changes would cripple the ability of groups to raise and spend 
	funds in pursuit of their mission and could be so ruinous that 
	organizations would be forced to back away from meaningful 
	conversations about public policies that affect millions of Americans.
	  If the proposed rules were adopted, the following organizations would 
	be treated as federal political committees and therefore could not 
	receive grants from any corporation, even an incorporated nonprofit 
	foundation, from any union, or from any individual in excess of $5,000 
	per year:
	  - A 501(c)(4) gun rights organization that spends $50,000 on ads at 
	any time during this election year criticizing any legislator, who also 
	happens to be a federal candidate, for his or her position on gun 
	control measures.
	  - A "good government" organization [§501(c)(3)] that spends more than 
	$50,000 to research and publish a report criticizing several members of 
	the House of Representatives for taking an all-expense trip to the 
	Bahamas as guests of the hotel industry.
	  - A fund [§527] created by a tax reform organization to provide 
	information to the public regarding federal candidates' voting records 
	on budget issues.
	  - A civil rights organization [§501(c)(3) or §501(c)(4)] that spends 
	more than $50,000 to conduct non-partisan voter registration activities 
	in Hispanic and African-American communities after July 5, 2004.
	  - An organization devoted to the environment that spends more than 
	$50,000 on communications opposing oil drilling in the Arctic and 
	identifying specific Members of Congress as supporters of the 
	legislation, if those Members are running for re-election.
	  - A civic organization [§501(c)(6)] that spends $50,000 during 2004 to 
	send letters to all registered voters in the community urging them to 
	vote on November 2, 2004 because "it is your civic duty."
	  Other potential ramifications include the following situations:
	  - A religious organization that publishes an election-year legislative 
	report card covering all members of Congress on a broad range of issues 
	would be unable to accept more than $5,000 from any individual donor if 
	the report indicated whether specific votes were good or bad.
	  - A 501(c)(3) organization that primarily encourages voter 
	registration and voting among young people will be required to 
	re-create itself as a federal PAC.
	  - A 501(c)(4) pro-life group that accepts contributions from local 
	businesses would break the law by using its general funds to pay for 
	any communications critical of an incumbent Senator's position on 
	abortion rights after the Senator had officially declared himself for 
	reelection more than a year before the next election.
	  - A 501(c)(3) civil rights group that has been designated as a 
	political committee can no longer hold its annual fundraiser at a 
	corporate-donated facility, and it must refuse donations or grants from 
	donors that have already given $5,000 for that year.
	Under federal campaign finance laws, federal "political committees" 
	must register and file reports with the FEC and can accept 
	contributions only from individual persons (and other federal 
	committees), and only up to $5,000 per year from any one donor ("hard 
	money"). The FEC is now proposing to redefine "political committee" to 
	include any group that:
	  1. Spends more than $1,000 this year on nonpartisan voter registration 
	or get out the vote activity or on any ad, mailing or phone bank that 
	"promotes, supports, attacks or opposes" any federal candidate; and
	  2. Supposedly has a "major purpose" of election of a federal candidate 
	as shown by:
	  (a) Saying anything in its press releases, materials, website, etc. 
	that might lead regulators to conclude that the group's "major purpose" 
	is to influence the election of any federal candidate; or
	  (b) Spending more than $50,000 this year or in any of the last 4 years 
	for any nonpartisan voter registration or get out the vote program, or 
	on any public communication that "promotes, supports, attacks or 
	opposes" any federal candidate.
	  What's more, any group that gets turned into a federal "political 
	committee" under these new rules has to shut down all its 
	communications critical of President Bush (or any other federal 
	candidate) until it sets up "federal" and "non-federal" accounts; and 
	raises enough hard money contributions to "repay" the federal account 
	for the amounts spent on all those communications since the beginning 
	of 2003.
	  These proposed rules would apply to all types of groups: 501(c)(3) 
	charitable organizations, 501(c)(4) advocacy organizations, labor 
	unions, trade associations and non-federal political committees and 
	organizations (so-called "527" groups, as well as state PACs, local 
	political clubs, etc.).
	  The new rules, including those that apply to voter engagement, cover 
	all types of communications -- not just broadcast TV or radio ads -- 
	but messages in any form, such as print ads, mailings, phone banks, 
	email alerts like this one, websites, leaflets, speeches, posters, 
	tabling, even knocking on doors.
	  The FEC will hold a public hearing on April 14 & 15. Written comments 
	are due by April 5 if the group wants to testify at that hearing; 
	otherwise, by April 9. The FEC plans to make its final decision on 
	these proposed rules by mid-May and they could go into effect as early 
	as July, right in the middle of the election year, potentially 
	retroactive to January 2003.
	  It's clear that these rules would immediately silence thousands of 
	groups, of all types, who have raised questions and criticisms of any 
	kind about the Bush Administration, its record and its policies.
	- The FEC should not change the rules for nonprofit advocacy in the 
	middle of an election year, especially in ways that Congress already 
	considered and rejected. Implementing these changes now would go far 
	beyond what Congress decided and the Supreme Court upheld.
	  - These rules would shut down the legitimate activities of nonprofit 
	organizations of all kinds that the FEC has no authority at all to 
	  - Nothing in the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law or the Supreme 
	Court's decision upholding it provides any basis for these rules. That 
	law is only about banning federal candidates from using unregulated 
	contributions ("soft money"), and banning political parties from doing 
	so, because of their close relationship to those candidates. It's clear 
	that, with one exception relating to running broadcast ads close to an 
	election, the new law wasn't supposed to change what independent 
	nonprofit interest groups can do, including political organizations 
	(527's) that have never before been subject to regulation by the FEC.
	  - The FEC can't fix the problems with these proposed rules just by 
	imposing new burdens on section 527 groups. They do important issue 
	education and advocacy as well as voter mobilization. And Congress 
	clearly decided to require those groups to fully and publicly disclose 
	their finances, through the IRS and state agencies, not to restrict 
	their independent activities and speech. The FEC has no authority to go 
	  - In the McConnell opinion upholding McCain-Feingold, the U.S. Supreme 
	Court clearly stated that the law's limits on unregulated corporate, 
	union and large individual contributions apply to political parties and 
	not interest groups. Congress specifically considered regulating 527 
	organization three times in the last several years - twice through the 
	Internal Revenue Code and once during the BCRA debate - and did not 
	subject them to McCain-Feingold.
	  - The FEC should not, in a few weeks, tear up the fabric of tax-exempt 
	law that has existed for decades and under which thousands of nonprofit 
	groups have structured their activities and their governance. The 
	Internal Revenue Code already prohibits 501(c)(3) charities from 
	intervening in political candidate campaigns, and IRS rules for other 
	501(c) groups prohibit them from ever having a primary purpose to 
	influence any candidate elections -- federal, state, or local.
	  - As an example of how seriously the new FEC rules contradict the IRS 
	political and lobbying rules for nonprofits, consider this: Under the 
	1976 public charity lobbying law, a 501(c)(3) group with a $1.5 million 
	annual budget can spend $56,250 on grassroots lobbying, including 
	criticism of a federal incumbent candidate in the course of lobbying on 
	a specific bill. That same action under the new FEC rules would cause 
	the charity to be regulated as a federal political committee, with 
	devastating impact on its finances and perhaps even loss of its 
	tax-exempt status.
	  - The chilling effect of the proposed rules on free speech cannot be 
	overstated. Merely expressing an opinion about an officeholder's 
	policies could turn a nonprofit group OVERNIGHT into a federally 
	regulated political committee with crippling fund-raising restrictions.
	  - Under the most draconian proposal, the FEC would "look back" at a 
	nonprofit group's activities over the past four years - before 
	McCain-Feingold was ever passed and the FEC ever proposed these rules - 
	to determine whether a group's activities qualify it as a federal 
	political committee. If so, the FEC would require a group to raise hard 
	money to repay prior expenses that are now subject to the new rules. 
	Further work would be halted until debts to the "old" organization were 
	repaid. This rule would jeopardize the survival of many groups.
	  - The 4 year "look back" rule would cause a nonprofit group that 
	criticized or praised the policies of Bush, Cheney, McCain, or Gore in 
	2000, or any Congressional incumbent candidate in 2000 or 2002, to be 
	classified as a political committee now, even though the group has not 
	done so since then. This severely violates our constitutional 
	guarantees of due process.
	  - These changes would impoverish political debate and could act as a 
	de facto "gag rule" on public policy advocacy. They would insulate 
	public officials from substantive criticism for their positions on 
	policy issues. They would actually diminish civic participation in 
	government rather than strengthen it. This would be exactly the 
	opposite result intended by most supporters of campaign finance reform.
	  - The FEC's proposed rule changes would dramatically impair vigorous 
	debate about important national issues. It would hurt nonprofit groups 
	across the political spectrum and restrict First Amendment freedoms in 
	ways that are unhealthy for our democracy.
	  - Any kind of nonprofit -- conservative, liberal, labor, religious, 
	secular, social service, charitable, educational, civic participation, 
	issue-oriented, large, and small -- could be affected by these rules. A 
	vast number would be essentially silenced on the issues that define 
	them, whether they are organized as 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), or 527 
	  - Already, more than five hundred nonprofit organizations - including 
	many that supported McCain-Feingold like ourselves - have voiced their 
	opposition to the FEC's efforts to restrict advocacy in the name of 
	campaign finance reform.
	Resources on FEC Proposed Rule Changes Threatening Nonprofit Advocacy
	  FEC Working Group
	 >From two prominent reform organizations:
	  Soft Money and the FEC
	  Common Cause
	Public Campaign Statement regarding FEC Draft Advisory Opinion 2003-37
	  Public Campaign
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