March 6, 2002

Urgent Action Needed to Stop H.R. 2356

Home schoolers' ability to work with Congress to protect home school freedom is under attack. House Resolution 2356, the Shays-Meehan Bill, would stifle much of the work done by advocacy groups on Capitol Hill. Call your U.S. Senator if he or she is listed below with the following message.

"Please support the filibuster to stop the Campaign Finance Reform Bill. This bill's 'coordination' standards violate freedom of speech and make it difficult for Americans to lawfully work in cooperation with congressional lawmakers on public policy issues."

The Shays-Meehan Bill, H.R. 2356, passed the House 240-189 on February 14, 2002. This bill has moved to the Senate where opponents are hoping to use a procedural action known as a filibuster to block a vote on the floor. However, for this strategy to be successful, the filibuster must have the support of at least 41 senators. According to our count, only 38 have committed to supporting this filibuster-making the support of three of the senators listed below crucial to the success of this action. We believe some of these senators could be persuaded to join the filibuster.

Your calls are critical, especially if your senator is listed below.

Senators to Call:

  1. Senator Lincoln D. Chafee (R-RI) 202-224-2921
  2. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) 202-224-5054
  3. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) 202-224-2523
  4. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) 202-224-6621
  5. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) 202-224-4814
  6. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL) 202-224-2854
  7. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) 202--224-2235
  8. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) 202-224-5344
  9. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) 202-224-4254
  10. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) 202-224-3004
  11. Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) 202-224-4944

Under current law, advocacy groups such as home school organizations are allowed to make independent expenditures in an election campaign. For example, a home school group may issue a press release highlighting a home school issue. However, to be independent, these expenditures must not be coordinated with the candidate. In addition, they may not call for the election or defeat of a candidate. Under Shays-Meehan, the term "coordination" would be broadened to include activity pursuant to a "general understanding," regardless of whether there is any express advocacy. Under this broader standard, candidates and advocacy groups would have to use extreme caution in conversing about issues of mutual concern. Such a broad standard on coordination will have a chilling effect on free speech, and facilitate nuisance complaints filed merely for publicity.

Many advocacy organizations that run advertising on issues are concerned with new disclosure requirements. Shays-Meehan would now mandate disclosure of "electioneering communications" exceeding a total of $10,000 per year. If an advocacy organization runs such ads within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary, that organization would have to disclose its high donors. Such disclosure would discourage many from participating in the political process. For example, a pro-life employee might be unwilling to contribute if his pro-choice boss were to be able to know that the employee was a contributor to pro-life causes. While HSLDA does not presently engage in this type of issue advocacy, such an infringement on free speech should not go without comment.

Elections in the United States are heavily regulated. The amount of money that can be given, who can spend it, and how it is spent are all governed by law. There are many players in elections: candidates, political parties, political action committees (PACs), individuals, advocacy groups, unions, and businesses. All have specific regulations regarding what is permissible conduct.

Current law generally revolves around how money may be used in a campaign, and breaks down in the following manner:

  • Candidates may spend their own money for their own election, without limitation;

  • Candidates cannot directly accept money from unions or businesses;

  • Candidates can receive support from individuals and PACs (a pooled group with a common bond), but the funding is limited to specific dollar amounts, for example $5000 per PAC, $2000 per individual, per cycle;

  • Candidates can receive direct help from a political party, but the political party can only do so from contributions made to the party by individuals or PACs (so-called "hard money" contributions);

  • Candidates can receive indirect help from a political party through the political party's "issue ads" and get-out-the-vote efforts. These efforts can be funded by contributions from businesses or individuals to the party for party building (so-called "soft money" contributions); and

  • Candidates cannot receive contributions from advocacy groups, but such groups may promote an issue so long as express advocacy is avoided and such activities by the advocacy group are not coordinated with the candidate. This is referred to as an "independent expenditure."

 Other Resources

H.R. 2356 Passes House: First Amendment Liberties Still Infringed