Connecticut Law Review Volume 43 - Issue 1

Artificial Grassroots Advocacy and the Constitutionality of Legislative Identification and Control Measures

Modern lobbying is rife with campaigns that claim to be the fruit of spur-of-the-moment grassroots activity. Despite their outward appearance, these campaigns mask the fact that their sponsors include special interest groups, large corporations, and affluent individuals. They likewise strive to further the objectives of these entities and individuals while purporting to promote the public interest. Because the parties behind these pseudo-grassroots efforts enjoy vast financial and political resources, their activities have exerted a significant effect on public opinion and on the decisions of elected officials. In recent years, Congress has sought to rein in the architects of so-called “Astroturf” lobbying through proposed registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements. Nevertheless, concerns over the First Amendment ramifications of such legislation have thwarted its passage.

This Note begins by considering the First Amendment-based arguments of those who oppose legislative efforts to address Astroturf lobbying. It thereafter examines case law on lobbying disclosure rules, and on similar rules in the area of election-related speech, and finds that, despite the above arguments, the government has a compelling interest in the disclosure of Astroturf lobbying activities. Finally, this Note analyzes the components of the Senate’s most recent disclosure proposal and discusses ways by which Congress could strengthen subsequent proposals.

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