Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Law(s) of the Day

Seattle resident Pat Murakami opposed the city's plan to declare her neighborhood "blighted," allowing use of eminent domain to force owners to sell their property for redevelopment (the process Connecticut employed in the Kelo case five years ago). She started an "unincorporated, nonprofit volunteer association" called "Many Cultures, One Message" that wants to narrow state eminent domain rules.

That alone made Murakami subject to Washington Revised Code 42.17.200, titled "Grass roots lobbying campaigns", which requires groups that:
urge your fellow citizens to contact government officials and spend more than the state’s arbitrarily low ceiling (only $500 in one month or $1,000 in three months [NOfP note: threshold amounts from here]). . . to register with it and report your name, address, business and occupation, as well as the names and addresses of anyone with whom you are working to spread your message. The state also demands to know the names and addresses of each person who contributes more than $25 to your efforts.
Washington then disseminates such information on the Internet.

It's not just Washington State. According to the Institute for Justice:
Twenty‐two states explicitly include grassroots lobbying in the definition of lobbying, while another 14 consider any attempt to influence public policy to be lobbying, as long as a certain amount is spent. Thus, such common activities as publishing an open letter, organizing a demonstration or distributing flyers can trigger regulation and force organizers to register with the state and file detailed reports on their activities, as well as the identities of supporters.
On behalf of Many Cultures, One Message and others, the IJ last month sued for a Federal Court finding that Washington's law is unconstitutional.

As a reminder, the First Amendment forbids laws abridging "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." And a half-century ago, the Supreme Court found "compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy" an impermissible burden on freedom of association. NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 462-63 (1958).

Hostility to lobbyists is fashionable, especially in the Obama Administration. Yet the President once was a "community organizer." How is that different from Ms Murakami? Or similar activists in other states?

It isn't. The First Amendment still applies. Despite the fact that many progressives want restrictions on political speech. And especially, in Washington State and Washington DC, when progressives are the incumbents.


Geoffrey Britain said...

"The state also demands to know the names and addresses of each person who contributes more than $25 to your efforts."

Hello 1984.

Carl said...

GB: Agreed. Money is speech, see Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 16-17 (1976), and -- when not a campaign contribution -- should be almost entirely unregulated.