Statement Of Ralph G. Neas on FEC Rulemaking

PFAW President Calls on FEC to Reject Unprecedented Restrictions on Free Speech, Advocacy

Washington – At a news conference by nonprofit organizations and political advocacy groups on proposed FEC regulations that could shut down a wide range of advocacy and electoral activities, People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas made the following statement:

A month ago, hundreds of nonprofit organizations joined together to sound the alarm about the threat to free speech and public debate posed by a draft advisory opinion prepared by the general counsel’s office at the Federal Election Commission.

Some of those same groups are here today to call on FEC commissioners to reject another misguided proposal from the commission’s general counsel, this one in the form of a proposed rulemaking that is breathtaking in scope, and potentially devastating in effect.

The draft that will come before the commission today could effectively end legitimate political and electoral advocacy by many nonprofit organizations. Any organization that spends $50,000 a year on any form of communication that criticizes or commends the president or any federal official running for reelection would, according to the draft proposed rulemaking, have to become a federal political committee.

In other words, nonprofit organizations that advocate for cancer research, or promote policies that alleviate poverty, or work to clean up the environment, or to protect civil rights and civil liberties – all these organizations could be transformed into political committees if they criticize or commend members of Congress or the President based on their official actions or policy positions.

And that would radically restrict organizations’ ability to raise and spend funds in pursuit of their mission. That possibility would be so ruinous that groups would be forced to back away from meaningful conversations about public policies that affect the lives of millions of Americans.

It should be emphasized that this proposal would dramatically restrict nonprofit advocacy all across the political spectrum. At People For the American Way, however, we are especially concerned about how this draconian proposal could effectively shut down the progressive movement and silence criticism of the Bush administration and its policies.

This preposterous proposal is not what Congress had in mind when it passed the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act. It was not called for by the Supreme Court in upholding BCRA. The Commissioners should summarily reject this irresponsible proposal.

In fact, we are calling on the commissioners not to issue the proposal in draft form for public comment. It is too flawed, too far from any reasonable policy outcome, to serve as the basis for conversation. The FEC’s general counsel needs to start over, with clear guidance from the commissioners and the public, to ensure that any proposed FEC rules stay within the bounds of the law and the Constitution.

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