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FOX News Acts As Press Agent For Focus On The Family’s Lobbying Efforts

Reported by Ellen - January 15, 2007 -

Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, got an entire segment on Friday night’s (1/12/07) Hannity & Colmes in which to mobilize viewers against some new lobbying rules pending in the Senate. Not only was there no other guest to balance Dobson’s (and Hannity’s) assertions that the legislation was aimed at silencing conservatives, FOX News did Dobson the added favor of repeatedly posting on the screen the URL where viewers could sign a petition urging legislators to kill the provision.

Sean Hannity introduced the discussion with a whack at Democrats while he was at it. “Freedom of speech is being threatened by a new bill from the new Democratic majority in Congress. Senate Bill #1 proposes to provide greater transparency in the legislative process but does that really mean silencing conservative groups?”

Hannity listened with his sincere face, hand posed thoughtfully on his chin, as Dobson claimed that the bill’s provision would “muffle and stifle organizations like ours when we attempt to communicate with the grass roots.” The web address for Dobson's petition alternated with the phrase “Silencing Conservatives?” on the screen.

Although both Hannity and Colmes tried to pin down Dobson on exactly how the bill would stifle free speech, Dobson’s main beef seemed to be that it would be too much of a pain in the neck for him. He complained that in addition to filing tax returns, his organization would have to report to the Senate “every single telephone conversation that we have with any elected official… and all the dollars that we spend trying to communicate with people would have to be reported.”

“That’s insane,” Hannity said sympathetically. Then he made Dobson’s argument for him. “What it does on a very, very sinister level here, it makes it so cost-prohibitive and so labor-intensive that you can’t accomplish the mission.”

Just in case the website on the screen wasn’t enough of a prompt, helpful Hannity asked Dobson what he wants viewers to do. That, of course, initiated a plea that viewers contact their representatives. The URL of Dobson's petition conveniently stayed on the screen while he spoke.

Alan Colmes pointed out that the bill is bipartisan. You can see the sponsors here. Apparently, two of the sponsors, Bennett and McConnell now want to strike one of the provisions (I wonder if it’s because of some lobbying by Dobson). Colmes added, “To paint this as a Democratic attempt is not exactly the way it is.”

Colmes went on to put up the provisions of the Legislation Transparency and Accountability Act: Disclosure of paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying: Requires disclosure of efforts to encourage members of the general public to contact legislative or executive branch officials. Communications made by an entity directed at its members, employees, officers or shareholders are excluded from reporting. Colmes also noted, “By the way, you’ve got to be giving $10,000 or more for those telephone conversations to be reported.”

Colmes continued by saying the bill is about transparency, an issue “I thought that Republicans and Democrats together were fighting for.” Colmes also said that because Dobson’s group is already a registered lobbying group, there are probably no additional hurdles.

Dobson answered, “We do not have any obligation to tell the Senate when I go on the air to say ‘Let me tell you what is going on in Washington.’ I’ve never had accountability to the Senate for saying that.”

Apparently, that's too much accountability for his taste.