Our organizations strongly urge you to vote against the Bennett amendment which would strike a critical disclosure provision from the Reid-McConnell substitute that requires professional "Astroturf" lobbying firms to report the amounts they spend to conduct "Astroturf" lobbying campaigns.
The "Astroturf" lobbying disclosure provision was a part of the ethics and lobbying legislation that passed the Senate last year by a vote of 90 to 8.
The Abramoff corruption and lobbying scandals provide a classic example of how large amounts have been secretly spent to fund "Astroturf" lobbying campaigns, without disclosure to the public about these activities.
Abramoff associate Michael Scanlon was able to conduct secret "Astroturf" lobbying for Abramoff's clients because existing lobbying laws do not require professional "Astroturf" lobbying firms to register or report their lobbying activities as long as they do not make direct lobbying contacts with Congress. Scanlon's firm did not engage in direct lobbying and therefore could operate completely outside of the existing lobbying disclosure laws.
Under the Reid-McConnell substitute, the Scanlon "Astroturf" lobbying activities on behalf of Jack Abramoff�'s clients would have been disclosed to the public in lobbying disclosure reports.
Under the Bennett amendment, however, the Abramoff-Scanlon "Astroturf" lobbying activities would continue to be outside the lobbying disclosure laws and would have remained secret from the public.
In addition to professional "Astroturf" lobbying firms, the ��Astroturf�� disclosure provision would require disclosure of "Astroturf" lobbying activities only by organizations already registered and reporting under the lobbying laws - and only if those organizations spend significant amounts to conduct "Astroturf" lobbying campaigns, and if their lobbying campaigns are directed at the public and not at their own members.
"Astroturf" lobbying campaigns involve paid media, phone bank, direct mail and other paid public communication campaigns to urge the public to lobby Congress on legislation. Currently the huge amount of money spent on these "Astroturf" lobbying campaigns are not required by lobbying laws to be disclosed to the public.
The "Astroturf" lobbying disclosure provision would not cover any individual or organization that is not otherwise required to register and report under the lobbying laws, other than currently unregistered professional "Astroturf" lobbying firms.
The provision also would not require registered lobbying organizations to report any money they spend to communicate with their own members urging them to lobby Congress.
Instead, the disclosure provision would apply only to money spent by professional "Astroturf" lobbying firms and by registered lobbying organizations on paid media and other communications campaigns to urge the public to lobby Congress on legislation (professional "Astroturf" lobbying campaigns).
We urge you to vote against the Bennett amendment to strike from the Reid-McConnell substitute the "Astroturf" lobbying disclosure provision that requires disclosure of the total amounts spent on "Astroturf" lobbying.
Campaign Legal Center
League of Women Voters