Publication Date

January 1, 1996

Opponents of the Istook amendment can celebrate the apparent (but probably temporary) death of the Istook amendment, which would have effectively silenced the voice of America's nonprofit community and imposed a burdensome bureaucracy. The Istook amendment was sponsored by Representatives Ernest Jim Istook (R-Okla.), David McIntosh (R-Ind.), and Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.). For the remainder of 1995, the House will not likely vote on Istook again. But celebrate cautiously because Istook proponents promise that they will be back in 1996 with Istook Reanimated. Support by community groups across the country really made the difference. The volume of calls and letters from folks back home affected Congress. The Let America Speak Coalition reported that 6,000 calls were made through its toll-free number.

The impending death of the Istook amendment became apparent after the House rejected several proposed amendments to the Lobby Disclosure Bill, including the Clinger amendment, which was backed by the GOP leadership. Many observers believed that the Clinger amendment had the greatest chance of being accepted. It was intended to prevent federal agencies from sending out materials that could be used to support or oppose legislation before Congress. Representatives Istook and McIntosh withdrew their amendments shortly after the House rejected the Clinger amendment.

The House's unanimous rejection of the proposed amendments produced a clean Lobby Disclosure Bill that will go directly to the president for his signature. The Lobby Disclosure Bill contains the original language by Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), which requires 501(C)(4) nonprofit organizations to report lobbying activities and does not change the current definition of advocacy. The Simpson language does not impose reporting requirements on 501(C)(3) organizations, but it does place a $10 million cap on expenditures for lobbying activities.

The humanities community must take seriously the promise of Istook proponents to continue the fight. According to a recent Washington Times article, Representative McIntosh said, “It’s uphill from here. I’d say we accomplished 40 to 50 percent of our goal… and we have a real chance this year to accomplish the rest… We’ll probably introduce [the Istook amendment] as its own bill next year.”1 Despite the withdrawal of the Istook and McIntosh amendments to the Lobby Disclosure Bill, Istook proponents seem to be looking again at the forthcoming Continuing Resolution; the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS)-Education appropriations bill; and the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Administration appropriations bill as possible legislative vehicles. All three bills have been held up due to differences between Congress and the White House.

Istook's future in the Senate remains uncertain, but analysts believe that the Senate will continue to oppose anything resembling the original Istook amendment. It is unclear, however, whether the Senate will again pass the Simpson-Craig compromise or something similar. The Simpson-Craig compromise was a substitute to Istook when it became clear that the original Istook had little chance of passing in the Senate. The Let America Speak Coalition believes that the Simpson-Craig compromise is worse than the Simpson language in the Lobby Disclosure Bill, but not as bad as the Istook amendment Simpson-Craig is still attached to the Labor-HHS bill, but was dropped out of the Treasury-Postal appropriations bill, as well as the Continuing Resolution and the Lobby Disclosure Bill. A source at OMB Watch, one of the three lead organizations in the Let America Speak Coalition, says he believes Simpson-Craig will eventually be stripped from the Labor-HHS appropriations bill.

If Istook proponents are unsuccessful at the federal level, they may try to push Istook type laws through other channels. Some analysts recently suggested that the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., will attempt to push Istook-type laws at the state level. The Heritage Foundation has been influential with the new majority in Congress. Istook currently enjoys the support of both the Christian Coalition and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which are both present at the state level and are capable of wielding influence. Other conservative groups (such as the Conservative Caucus) also support the principle of the Istook amendment, but disagree on the way to achieve its goal. Even George Will, the widely read conservative columnist, added in a Washington Post op-ed article that he believes Istook is “a swamp of regulation” and that “Istook’s cure might be as bad as the disease.”2 Istook proponents may also try to change the tax code to achieve the same provisions the Istook amendment would impose. There is disagreement on whether this is a viable substitute for passing Istook as an amendment or as a freestanding bill.

As a side note, the Alliance for Justice, the other lead organization in the Let America Speak Coalition, and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) have filed a formal ethics complaint against Representative McIntosh for "forgery, intimidation, and lies." The complaint charges McIntosh with two specific violations of House ethics rules. First, McIntosh released and continues to distribute a document containing false information on a forged Alliance for Justice letterhead. Second, McIntosh presented on the House floor a quote he fabricated but claimed Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, included in her testimony before his subcommittee. According to the Alliance for Justice, Nan Aron never made the statement at the hearing or at any other time.

The struggle continues, so we must maintain our vigor and vigilance.

Notes

1. "Uphill Road for Advocacy Bill," Washington Times, 5 December 1995.

2. “Istook's Swamp” Washington Post, 12 November 1995.

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