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E-M:/ Shutting down environmental advocacy

Enviro-Mich message from "Alex J. Sagady & Associates" <ajs@sagady.com>

I pass this message on to Michigan groups because of
its importance to environmental advocacy and holding
the national administration accountable for their
disregard of environmental protection and conservation.

Although Congressman Mike Rogers is mentioned, he's
only there because he's my congressman.   You should
contact your own congressional house member in addition
to Senators Levin and Stabenow.

This all falls into the category of the Bush Administration
attempting to steal our voices and to silence criticism
of their anti-environmental policies.


Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2004 12:37:28 -0800
Message-Id: <f22d-9ec-4069da88@web01.moveon.org>
From: "Wes Boyd, MoveOn.org" <moveon-help@list.moveon.org>
To: "Alexander J. Sagady" <ajs@sagady.com>
Subject: Attempt to make criticism of Bush illegal
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;

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 threat.

The Republican National Committee is pressing the Federal Election 
Commission ("FEC") to issue new rules that would shut down 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.

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 feedback.

Public comments to the FEC are encouraged by email at


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 

By the way, the FECís proposed rules do not affect 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.

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 organizations.
- 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.

You can reach your representatives at:

   Senator Carl Levin
   Phone: 202-224-6221

   Senator Debbie Stabenow
   Phone: 202-224-4822

   Congressman Mike Rogers
   Phone: 202-225-4872

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 organizations.

If you run a non-profit, don't assume this change doesn't apply to you. 
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 [ß501(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 [ß527] created by a tax reform organization to provide information 
to the public regarding federal candidates' voting records on budget issues.

- A civil rights organization [ß501(c)(3) or ß501(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 [ß501(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 

- 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 groupís "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.

Whatís 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.

Itís 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 regulate.

- Nothing in the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law or the Supreme Courtís 
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. Itís clear that, with one 
exception relating to running broadcast ads close to an election, the new 
law wasnít supposed to change what independent nonprofit interest groups 
can do, including political organizations (527ís) that have never before 
been subject to regulation by the FEC.

- The FEC canít 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 further.

- 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 organizations.

- 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


Alex J. Sagady & Associates        http://www.sagady.com

Environmental Enforcement, Permit/Technical Review, Public Policy,
Evidence Review and Litigation Investigation on Air, Water and
Waste/Community Environmental and Resource Protection
Prospectus at:  http://www.sagady.com/sagady.pdf

PO Box 39,  East Lansing, MI  48826-0039
(517) 332-6971; (517) 332-8987 (fax); ajs@sagady.com

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