The Home School Court Report
Vol. XXIII
No. 5
Cover
September/October
2007

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SOUTH CAROLINA

Dangerous Anti-lobbying Bill

South Carolina Senate Bill 714, legislation originally intended to regulate the lobbying efforts of organizations such as Home School Legal Defense Association in contacting our member families about legislation and other government activities, has been amended to eliminate this threat to free speech.

Introduced on May 25, 2007, the original version of the bill appeared to have been patterned after some dangerous federal legislation intended to harass public interest organizations which try to influence government through grassroots lobbying. The South Carolina bill was directed toward political awareness organizations that have a similar purpose. Senate Bill 714 defined a “political awareness organization” as follows:

“Political awareness organization” means an organization or committee that receives contributions and makes expenditures, totally or in part, for the purpose of promoting specific issues in order to influence public opinion with the intent to impact or change local and state government or its subdivisions, or both, and has the Internal Revenue Service classification of “501(C)(4)” or “527” or operates within an organization with the Internal Revenue Service classification of “501(C)(4)” or “527.”

Since HSLDA is a 501(c)(4) organization, it appears that it would have been included in this definition.

If this bill had been enacted as originally drafted, a political awareness organization receiving or expending more than $2,500 during a calendar year would have had to register with the State Ethics Commission and pay an annual fee of $100. The organization would have had to file reports of contributions, including the name and address of each person making a contribution of more than $100 and the amount and date of such contribution. An organization violating this law would have been subject to a fine of $2,500 or imprisonment for one year, or both, and would have been barred from acting as a political awareness organization for three years.

Needless to say, the reporting required by this law would have not only created an administrative burden to public interest organizations but also would have discouraged donors from making contributions to these organizations because of privacy concerns. The effect of such legislation would have been to further insulate government from public opinion by muzzling the voice of South Carolina citizens who wanted to express their views to legislators to influence the outcome of bills. It was a direct threat to the constitutional right of freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Thanks to the outcry of homeschoolers and public interest organizations in South Carolina, on May 30, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee amended the bill to completely change its purpose. It no longer attempts to regulate organizations such as HSLDA or limit grassroots lobbying. Instead, it now prohibits state officials from organizing, representing, or soliciting funds from nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to influence legislation. HSLDA will continue to monitor this bill in case any threatening changes are made to the current language.

— by Dewitt T. Black