Communications Department

NRLC letter to U.S. House members on amendments to Shays-Meehan bill

Feb 13, 2002 | Free Speech Issues

February 13, 2002

Dear Member of Congress:

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) has urged you to vote against the Shays-Meehan bill in a number of past letters, on the basis of multiple provisions that would greatly restrict both our freedom of speech to communicate with the public, and our right of association to work with like-minded members of Congress on issues of concern to our members. Those objections are outlined in our letter of February 7 []. We briefly summarize them again below.

We have now examined the latest version of Shays-Meehan, the substitute amendment filed last night. None of the changes correct any of the problems that we described in our February 7 letter. Therefore, we urge you to vote NO on adoption of the Shays-Meehan substitute, and we reserve the right to score that roll call.

If the Shays-Meehan substitute does become the base bill, we urge you to vote in support of the Ney-Wynn amendment (amendment no. 26), which we believe will be the last amendment offered. Because adoption of the Ney-Wynn amendment would erase the Shays-Meehan bill and thereby nullify the grave threat that the Shays-Meehan bill poses to the advocacy efforts of NRLC and NRLC’s affiliates, NRLC intends to include the vote on adoption of the Ney-Wynn amendment in the NRLC scorecard of key roll call votes for 2002.

If the Ney-Wynn amendment fails, NRLC will also score the roll call on final passage of the Shays-Meehan bill, as stated in previous letters. If, however, the Ney-Wynn amendment is adopted, NRLC will maintain a neutral posture on the final passage of the amended measure. (Any motion to recommit that would revive the objectionable provisions of Shays-Meehan would, of course, be scorable.)

Contrary to some misrepresentations being circulated by advocates of the Shays-Meehan bill, the latest revisions in the Shays-Meehan bill make only cosmetic changes to the bill’s pernicious provisions (in Section 214) dealing with “coordination” between members of Congress and citizen groups such as NRLC. The proposed Shays-Meehan language repudiates the current case law on “coordination,” and directs the FEC to issue regulations which “shall not require agreement or formal collaboration to establish coordination.” Under the language of Section 214, an advocacy group and a member of Congress could be deemed to have engaged in illegal “coordinated” activity, for example, if the group distributed PRINTED literature publicizing the results of a candidate questionnaire or “pledge” on one or more issues (which could constitute “substantial discussion” — see page 36 — sufficient to establish illicit “coordination”). In contrast, the Ney-Wynn amendment does not disturb current law on “coordination.”

In addition, the authors of the Shays-Meehan bill have proposed no changes to the bill’s extensive restrictions on constitutionally protected issue advocacy (Sections 201, 203, and 204). They would retain the ban on a citizen group (other than a federal PAC) sponsoring TV or radio ads that mention a “candidate” (including any member of Congress) for 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election. Nor have they proposed any modification of the “Specter Amendment” language in Section 201, which applies to any broadcast ad — at any time of any year — that “promotes,” “supports,” “attacks,” or “opposes” a “candidate,” and that is deemed to be “suggestive” (whatever that means) of a vote for or against a “candidate.”

The Ney-Wynn amendment does not contain the draconian prohibitions on the freedoms of speech and association of citizen groups, such as NRLC and NRLC affiliates, that are contained in the Shays-Meehan bill. Thank you for your consideration of NRLC’s position on this legislation.

David N. O’Steen, Ph.D.
Executive Director

Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
(202) 626-8820

Categories: Free Speech Issues