The National Association of Manufacturers today filed a lawsuit challenging a key aspect of new lobbying and ethics reform rules, arguing that requiring the group to disclose its membership list violates First Amendment rights.
NAM President John Engler, at a press conference announcing the lawsuit, said the requirement has "a very profound chilling effect on our members" and violates First Amendment guarantees of freedom of association and the right to petition the government.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also requests a preliminary injunction. Engler said the injunction will give the court time to resolve the case, adding that the association "cannot undisclose" its membership list if it is forced to give it up. Also at the press conference, NAM's attorneys, Jan Baran and Thomas Kirby of Wiley Rein, said Congress "does not have the power to require private associations to disclose their membership lists."
In December, NAM together with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Society of Association Executives sent a letter to the secretary of the Senate requesting guidance on the new laws. Specifically, the trade groups wanted to know if language calling for the disclosure of any member who contributes more than $5,000 per quarter to lobbying activities and "actively participates in the planning, supervision or control" of lobbying applied to their membership lists.
Engler said that guidance provided by Senate staff and the new law itself is too vague and too broad. NAM briefed other associations that have expressed doubts about the new law, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, before filing its suit, but Engler said the group decided to proceed by itself for now. NAM officials wouldn't rule out having other associations join the suit.