A federal judge has rejected a challenge by the National Association of Manufacturers to a key section of a new lobbying disclosure law, meaning the powerful trade group must now disclose the identity of it members who pay more than $5,000 every quarter for NAM's lobbying help and "actively participate in the planning, supervision, or control" of its lobbying work.
In a ruling issued today by District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, section 207 of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act - which outlines the new disclosure requirements facing NAM, other trade associations and "stealth coalitons" set up to lobby lawmakers on particular issues - was found to be constitutional.
NAM, in a legal challenge filed on Feb. 6, had argued that the provision was a violation of its First Amendment rights to petition - even anonymously - the government "for the redress of grievances. NAM sued the House and Senate over implementation of the provision, as well as the Justice Department. Several government watchdog groups filed motions in support of the provision. NAM argued that some member companies would withdraw from the association over fear that unpopular and controversial lobbying activities would be publicly exposed.
But in a 57-page ruling, Kollar-Kotelly thoroughly reviewed NAM's legal arguments and rejected them.
"In sum, the Court concludes that [Congress and DOJ] have met their burden of showing that [section 207 of HLOGA] 'is 'closely drawn' and 'thus avoid[s] unnecessary infringement' of First Amendment rights," Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
Kollar-Kotelly added that the new, mutli-step test for disclosure will ensure that just belonging to a trade association or other group will ensure that merely belonging to organization does not mean that it will become public.
"By crafting a compound lobbying disclosure that requires a combination of substantial funding of, and active participation in, a client or registrant's lobbying activities, Congress specifically tailored [section 207] to avoid capturing mere dues-paying members of established organizations," Kolllar-Kotelly wrote. "Moreover, [section 207] only requires the disclosure of 'the name, address and principal business' of affiliates that meet the disclosure threshold, and thus appropriately seeks only information necessary to reveal 'who pays, who puts up the money, and how much'" for lobbying.
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