Like the inevitability of water finding its way downhill, government is always looking for new ways to expand its regulatory power over the lives of its citizens. On serendipitous occasions, it manages to do so while simultaneously preventing others from impeding future expansions of power.
Such is the case with Congress’ consideration of the ethics and lobbying reform legislation prompted in the wake of public reaction to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Some politicians are attempting to use the newfound momentum for reform to add elements that would seriously impair the ability of average Americans to have their voices heard by their own government.
Like Dracula, bad ideas come well dressed in good intentions and lull their unsuspecting prey into a trance with sugar-coated words. But just like his victims, you wake up in the morning and discover that things turned out quite differently than you expected.
Some of the more sensible ideas being proposed would call for limits on congressional travel funded by outside sources, as well as preventing gifts and meals from being provided to elected officials by lobbyists. Fine. No problem there. But other elements would create regulations that would prevent grassroots organizations, groups of plain ol’ citizens trying to be heard by their government, from communicating with supporters and urging them to contact elected officials about pending legislation. In short, this “reform” would impede the ability of Americans to communicate with each other about what their government is doing.
Such activity is commonly referred to as “grassroots lobbying,” and it is the lifeblood of every constituency-based organization in America that tries to have its voice heard by government. The vast majority of them don’t have a fat-cat lobbyist in DC buying golf trips and expensive meals for politicians, but they do have something the politicians fear – grassroots supporters. This might explain the push to restrict their activity.
Also like Dracula, bad ideas are hard to kill. You have to make sure you get them in the heart. But exactly where the heart of this latest reform effort is, isn’t so obvious. Is it in the ego and aspirations of the politicians who push it; or with the complicit media that beats the drum of scandal to build momentum for reform? Perhaps it is in the uninformed minds of the public.
Whatever the answer, those who know the truth need to speak up and make life uncomfortable for those who advocate this assault on the Constitution. The right to petition our government “for a redress of grievances” is fundamental; in fact, that very phrase is in our Constitution along with the more familiar “freedom of speech.”
We have freedom of speech in this country for a reason. For instance, to be able to speak out against bad ideas masquerading as reform. Thanks to the last major instance of “reform” (the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law), most Americans who want to exercise free speech on any level grander than a conversation with a neighbor will find themselves in need of an attorney – either beforehand to explain the “rules”, or afterward to advise them of their rights and help keep them out of court.
Any historian worth his or her salt will explain that the “freedom of speech” protections contained in our First Amendment were enumerated first and foremost to protect political speech. The founders rightly understood that without freedom of political speech, free speech of any other sort would be meaningless at best, and short-lived at worst.
Yet in America today, we have ostensibly intelligent elected officials suggesting with straight faces that these “reforms” do nothing to hamper our free speech. At the same time, federal judges will bend over backwards to protect a pornographer’s right to distribute virtual child pornography in the name of free speech.
We are quickly entering a day and age when Americans will have to file paperwork to be allowed to have their grievances heard within our political system. If this latest version of “ethics” reform becomes law, Americans of every stripe will be significantly less able to influence their own government, while politicians of every stripe will be significantly emboldened to ignore average Americans.
There’s an old saying that goes, “better the devil you know than the one you don’t.” Another one warns us “the devil is in the details.” Both nuggets of wisdom apply with emphasis in this case. The “devil” of a problem most Americans have in dealing with their government is a known quantity. The devil that lurks in the details of the latest version of “ethics reform” is sure to make things worse.
Just like the dapper count from Transylvania, the proponents of this legislation are concerned with appearances. They want to give the appearance that they are “doing something” in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. And they are doing something. They are using the public reaction to the scandal to use “reform” as a vehicle to drain more life out of the First Amendment.
Stop them before they “reform” again.Powered by Sidelines