Congress amendment muzzles nonprofits

Elaine Hoagland elaine at ASCOLL.ORG
Fri Oct 27 15:18:58 CDT 1995

All nonprofit organizations in the US including universities, museums, =
NGO's, etc. face a grave threat to our right to free speech and our =
ability to obtain governmental funds.  THIS IS THE MOST SERIOUS THREAT =
by Reps Istook, McIntosh, and Ehrlich would limit federal grant =
recipients' freedom to spend PRIVATE funds on "advocacy activities."  =
Advocacy would include your appearance at a school board hearing, =
testimony related to a local zoning issue, your communication of any =
kind with NSF, or even your writing a letter to the editor of a =
newspaper.  It is imperative that you CALL AND FAX your representatives =
in both the House and Senate to urge a NO vote on the ISTOOK/McINTOSH =
Amendment to the Treasury-Postal appropriations bill.  The amendment has =
already passed the House and the Senate has approved a slighly less =
onerous version; the amendment is coming back for another vote in order =
to get the same version in the House and Senate.  We are down to the =
wire on this.  A vote is expected as early as October 31.  You can reach =
your representatives by dialing 1-800-336-0047; you will be given a =
summary of the issue and then will be able to connect to your =
representative.  The Congressional switchboard line is sometimes unable =
to be reached; in that case, call the American Assocication of Museums =
to obtain your reprsentatives' direct numbers:  202-289-9125.  Spread =
the word widely.  Citizens all should be aware and have a say on this.  =
Contact local media if possible; this has had very little play in the =

  Key Provisions of the Istook amendment include:

1.      Expanded definitions of controlled activities. While current law =
forbids use of grants for lobbying. Istook would forbid any attempt to =
influence the general public (such as writing a letter to the editor), =
any contact with executive branch officials at any level (such as =
appearing before a zoning board), and actual legislative lobbying at the =
state and local as well as federal level. All of these activities would =
be characterized as "advocacy activities".

2.      5% gag rule. The amendment would forbid grants to organizations that =
spend more than 5% of their non-grant budget (i.e. their own "private" =
funds) on advocacy activities. Organizations that exceed the limit would =
be banned from participating in grants programs for five years.=20

3.      15% rules.
a.      The amendment forbids use of grant funds to purchase any good or =
service from any entity, individual, or organization that spends more =
than 15% of its budget on advocacy.=20
b.      The amendment defines as advocacy the use of private funds to =
purchase any good or service from any entity, individual, or =
organization that spends more than 15% of its budget on advocacy.  =
Imagine keeping records on this!

4.      State or local grants would count as federal grants, if they were =
derived from federal funds

5.      Reporting requirements. All grantees would be asked if they engage =
in advocacy. Those that answer in the affirmative are then responsible =
for being able to prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that they =
have not exceeded the five percent cap. Reports would be posted on the =
Internet, and individuals could sue organizations that they believe to =
have transgressed; individuals who win such suits would be allowed to =
share in the proceeds of returned grants. If ASC goes over 15% limit, =
members that engage in no other advocacy - although given the =
extraordinarily broad definitions, most organizations will engage in a =
least some advocacy - would have to answer in the affirmative and file =
reports simply by virtue of paying dues.

6.      For-profit virtually excluded. The amendment does not cover =
recipients of federal contracts leaving defense contractor, for example, =
free to accept billions in federal contracts with no parallel limit on =
their lobbying activities.

Clearly, the measure would infringe First Amendment rights of assembly =
and free speech. It would fundamentally alter the political process by =
allowing program funds to be cut without organized opposition.  The Wise =
Use movement could target scientific and conservation organizations that =
have opposed their own views.  We cannot wait for court cases; people =
who understand the legitimate and essential  role of not-for-profits in =
providing both services to citizens and counsel to governments should =
speak out.  Otherwise, the public-private partnership much touted by =
both political parties will die.

>From E. Hoagland, Executive Director

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