6
Apr
2004

Free Speech in Danger, FEC Rule Change Would Silence Hundreds of Activist Groups

April 06, 2004

Last month the Federal Elections Commission voted 5-1 to consider rule changes that could drastically alter the legal status of many activist nonprofits, including environmental organizations.

If the proposal rules are approved, groups across the political spectrum may be forced to give up their core advocacy work or conform to stringent fundraising and financial reporting requirements usually reserved for political committees.

Further, the FEC could apply the rule change retroactively, in the middle of the election year, throwing the legality of nonprofit program, fundraising and reporting efforts into chaos.[1]

According to People For the American Way, "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."[2]

The FEC is considering this change in response to pressure from a Republican political committee, "Americans for a Better Country."[3] The group was organized last year specifically to establish "an aggressive voter-mobilization and issue ad campaign to out-raise and out-spend ... the liberal groups whose stated mission is the defeat of George Bush."[4]

The proposed FEC rule change comes amidst continuing actions by the Bush Administration to suppress dissenting views, including a prosecution of Greenpeace in federal court.

As reported by BushGreenwatch, the Ashcroft Justice Department dredged up an obscure 1872 law against "sailor-mongering" to indict Greenpeace on federal felony charges after activists boarded a ship carrying illegal mahogany from Brazil to Miami and hung a banner reading, "President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging." The case is considered a bellwether for the future of free speech and peaceful protest in the U.S.

Greenpeace filed for a dismissal of the case in December. A ruling is expected by April 9. Greenpeace has also filed a motion for a trial by jury should the case go to court, rather than having the case heard only by a judge, as requested by the Justice Department. "We want the public to hear the whole story," says Greenpeace's Nancy Hwa.

###

TAKE ACTION!
Send a comment opposing the rule change to the FEC. 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. The comments period ends on April 9: politicalcommitteestatus@fec.gov.


SOURCES:
[1] MoveOn.org action alert.
[2] People for the American Way FEC Working Group.
[3] Common Cause Press Release.
[4] "Conservative Spotlight: Americans for a Better Country," Human Events Online.


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