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Watchdogs Chase Lawmakers Over Break

With lawmakers out of town this week, Capitol Hill aides may have untied their half-Windsors and ditched their heels, but their bosses may not be feeling the same relief back home.

Advocacy groups across the spectrum are spending the traditional Memorial Day break cranking up pressure by subbing polished Beltway insiders for homegrown concerned constituent lobbyists.

Unions, businesses, war opponents and even money-and-politics watchdog groups are among those using district office meetings, town halls and even a Louisville highway billboard to keep the heat on lawmakers.

Take the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill aimed at making it easier for workers to unionize. Labor leaders say it would protect employees from employer intimidation.

Businesses say it would overturn decades of well-established labor law and eliminate workers’ access to a secret election. The bill passed the House 241-185 in March and is now under consideration in the Senate.

The National Association of Manufacturers put out a “Memorial Day Recess Alert” on its website telling members now “would be a perfect time to contact your elected officials” about important legislation like the EFCA.

NAM members are being prodded to write letters to the editors of local papers detailing their opposition to the bill – just in time for lawmakers to see those hometown editions. The association urges members to contact their senators to “tell them that your employees deserve to choose whether to join a union in private, free from coercion or intimidation."

The trade group has targeted Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska and Pennsylvania as the states where they have the best shot of winning over senators.

"This has been a fast-moving congressional session and the recess is an opportunity for us to continue working with our member companies outside the Beltway to educate lawmakers on policies that enhance the competitiveness of America's manufacturers.

We're using this week to advocate a variety of issues ranging from common sense tax policies to leveling the international playing field for American exports to lowering energy costs," Aric Newhouse, vice president of government relations, said in a statement.

On Iraq, war opponents are sending people into town hall meetings to confront members who voted against a timeline for ending it. They are also delivering “backbone” fliers to the congressional offices of Democrats calling on them to stand up to President Bush.

They are also running radio ads in Maine and Minnesota targeting moderate Republicans senators up for reelection next year and calling constituents in those states urging them to pressure the lawmakers to abandon the war effort.         

In Louisville on Friday, the Sunlight Foundation, an ethics watchdog group, will plaster an ad on a billboard alongside I-65 that asks: “What’s McConnell Hiding?”

The ad targets the Senate Republican Leader and is part of a new contest, beginning Friday, offering $500 for the first video “capturing Sen. Mitch McConnell on the record answering (or refusing to answer) who is blocking passage of legislation that would require senators to file their campaign finance reports electronically.”

“We’re putting this issue in front of citizens in Louisville because Sen. McConnell is the only person who knows the identity of the anonymous senator who has registered an objection” to passage of the measure, said Ellen Miller, Sunlight’s executive director, in a written statement.