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Lobbying Backlash Could Hit Bloggers

A bill that Senate Democrats have touted as a means to curb corruption in Washington could instead target some political bloggers with new regulations and even criminal penalties.

The legislation, which began as an attempt to rewrite federal lobbying laws in the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff scandal, has ballooned to more than 9,000 words and a thicket of complicated rules. It was the subject of a failed attempt by Senate Democrats on Wednesday to defeat a Republican filibuster over a line-item veto, and debate is continuing Thursday afternoon.

Much of the bill’s wording is obtuse. But one section says that certain political bloggers who make or spend $25,000 per quarter and who encourage readers to contact their elected representatives would be forced to register as lobbyists–or face up to 10 years in prison.

“You have a First Amendment right to contact your congressperson and you have a First Amendment right to tell others to do so,” said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Now they’re saying you have to report to the federal government if you’re going to engage in this First Amendment-protected activity.”

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