CT church speaks out, gets hit with investigation for "illegal" lobbying

Cross-posted at http://www.campaignfreedom.org/blog


The online version of The American Spectator reports today on the efforts of the Connecticut Office of State Ethics (OSE) to investigate and penalize the Diocese of Bridgeport for having the temerity to exercise at least four of the five sections of the First Amendment (religion, speech, assembly, petition). The story makes us very pleased that we led the fight against so-called “grassroots lobbying” regulations  that were stripped out of legislation that passed Congress in 2007, because it would have enabled exactly the type of harassment and abuse that appears to be going on here.

From the story by Lisa Fabrizio:

It seems that our Diocese of Bridgeport — which in March was forced to marshal the faithful to defend itself from unconstitutional government interference — was notified by the Connecticut Office of State Ethics that it is under investigation for possible violations of the state’s lobbying laws.

Bishop William Lori sent a letter to the OSE challenging the investigation. He describes the activity that led to the investigation:

Following the surprise introduction of Bill 1098, a proposal that singled out Catholic parishes and would have forced them to reorganize contrary to Church law and the First Amendment, our Diocese responded in the most natural, spontaneous, and frankly, American, of ways: we alerted our membership – in person and through our website; we encouraged them to exercise their free speech by contacting their elected representatives; and, we organized a rally at the State Capitol…

On April 23, 2009, the Diocese received a letter from Thomas K. Jones, Ethics Enforcement Officer for the OSE, stating that it was “the subject of an Office of State Ethics evaluation,” which was “being conducted to ascertain whether the Diocese had violated [Connecticut General Statutes Sections] 1-94, 1-95 and 1-96 by failing to register as a lobbyist in Connecticut, by failing to submit all other appropriate lobbyist filings, and by failing to follow all applicable registration procedures.”

The OSE claims the Diocese acted as a “lobbyist” by: participating in a March 11, 2009, State Capitol rally against Raised Bill 1098 (the unconstitutional attempt to reorganize Catholic parishes contrary to Catholic teaching and tradition); making statements on its website urging its members to contact their elected representatives to oppose Raised Bill 1098; and making statements on its website urging its members to contact their legislators to oppose another bill, Raised Bill 899 (regarding same-sex marriage).

It’s hard to imagine that in a country with the First Amendment protections we are supposed to enjoy, it should even be a matter of discussion whether it is legal, without government approval in advance, to hold a rally at the Statehouse and encourage fellow citizens to contact their elected officials. Such is the state of “reform” and “ethics” that we do in fact have to have these discussions.

Sean Parnell


Center for Competitive Politics