Republican Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma may resubmit legislation this week that would outlaw federally-funded nonprofits from engaging in activity that could be interpreted as lobbying. Last week, nonprofit sector advocates learned he would propose a restrictive amendment to an omnibus domestic spending bill now moving through the House Appropriations Committee.
Federally-funded organizations are already prohibited from using their grants to lobby federal or state governments. But Istook’s opponents charged that the proposed amendment–which Congress considered but did not approve last year–is broader than current law and would prevent most contacts between federal grantees and government officials.
“Is that his intention? I don’t know,” said Patrick Lemmon of the foundation-funded watchdog group, OMB Watch. “But it is clearly the effect.” He said that federally-backed domestic violence organizations would be blocked from requesting zoning variances from local legislators in order to open new shelters. “It makes it very hard if not impossible to deliver the services they are supposed to deliver,” Lemmon said. OMB Watch and two other Washington organizations, the Alliance for Justice and Independent Sector, are coordinating a campaign to protect nonprofits’ First Amendment rights.
Istook spokesperson Kristy Khachigian said the amendment would not cause the problems Lemmon described. “That’s bunk. All we are doing is conforming the language in our bill to current law,” she said. Khachigian added that the congressman hasn’t decided if he’ll submit the amendment.