Congress Sets a High Price on Free Speech

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Notice: Before you read any further, know that by doing so you will be lobbying.

Coming from a mindset that lobbying is somehow corrupt and wrong, Congress decided to raise the cost of free speech effective Jan. 1 without holding hearings. In the process, it also radically expanded the definition of lobbying.

The redefinition is so overly broad as to include practically all contact with Congress and the executive level of the administration. It also includes any research cited to make a point, the costs of monitoring legislative and regulatory activity (yes, reading the newspaper) and even communications of political opinions between an association and its members.

Through its action, Congress has forced many associations to back off from providing a unique awareness of how legislation will affect entire industries, geographic regions or classes of people. Two-thirds of all associations are involved in industry research. This valuable information may no longer be available - or may be severely reduced - because it win cost associations dearly to provide it, since it will be considered lobbying.

For example, if a congressional staffer calls an association for data on the industry's foreign sales or an opinion on the effectiveness of new technology, responding to that request will be counted as lobbying. And the full cost of the study or studies cited in the response will be considered not a research expense by the Internal Revenue Service, but a lobbying expense. If the research cost $250,000 to create, the association just incurred $250,000 of lobbying expense.

And the same is about to happen at the state level, since so many states harmonize their tax codes with federal requirements.

We have been called, accurately, a nation of joiners. Seven out of 1 0 adult Americans belong to at least one association. Four out of 10 belong to four or more. The 9,300 associations in the American Society of Association Executives have more than 287 million memberships in their organizations. But there are more than 100,000 associations nationwide - probably one for every industry, profession, philanthropy, cause or point of view - representing millions of Americans of varying economic and educational levels and cultures. They are the very fabric of America.

Associations are information forums. …