Tuesday, June 01, 2010

One Man's Lobby is Another's Grassroots

There was an article in this week's Economist featuring a local activist in the Rainier Valley, Pat Murakami. (I know Pat from our work together on the Closure and Consolidation Committee.) Pat has worked hard to try to protect her neighborhood from being overrun by developers in lieu of keeping small businesses alive. So she started a group, "Many Cultures, One Message" to organize her neighbors, many of whom are immigrants. She's been somewhat successful in her efforts and it seems that now she's running into a state law that I knew nothing about.

From the article:

She ran into a second little-known state law. If she prints some flyers, calls some meetings and urges her neighbours to write to their state representative demanding change, she has to register as a “grassroots lobbyist”. This rule applies to any group that spends more than $500 in any given month trying to influence the legislature. That sum includes not only cash but also anything else of value.

To comply with the law, Mrs Murakami must provide details such as the name, address and occupation of everyone who helps organise her campaign or who contributes more than $25 in cash or kind to it. All this information is then made public on the internet. She must also provide monthly reports on all the group’s activities and expenditures. Failure to follow the rules can result in ruinous fines; $10,000 per violation, which could mean every time she sends out a mailshot.

Yikes, that could hurt. I could see how, if you had enough meetings and/or members, you could spend $500 in a month. (Of course, that seems to put the law in the position of proving that all $500 went to lobby the legislature and not, say, the City Council.) It seems this "grassroots lobbying" law is the case in 36 states.

Pat is working to overturn this law. As someone working in the trenches (but not spending $500 a month on it), this is troubling because yes, I think it could have a chilling effect. It also speaks to the strength of grassroots work because if you do it right, you can get media attention and/or stall or postpone plans until the entire community can weigh in (which developers hate).


Jet City mom said...

We had kids on the Garfield track team at the same time- she is a big community volunteer.

I wonder if the $500 was set at a time when say " filling up your tank with gas" didn't cost $50?

artemis said...

Sounds like Big Brother to me.