by Nick Dranias
Arizonans have the right to bear arms nearly everywhere in this state without having to register anyone or anything with the government. Likewise, as mighty as the pen might be, no one should be forced to register themselves (or their pen) before communicating with elected officials about legislative reform. Yet, Arizona has done just that through its overreaching lobbying laws.
Arizona does not define “lobbying” as lurking in the lobbies of the legislature and trading an expensive steak dinner for an opportunity to bend a legislator’s ear. Instead, Arizona law defines lobbying as “attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by directly communicating with any legislator.” Even a newspaper columnist who directly emails a link to his latest opinion editorial to a legislator is lobbying if the email dares to express an opinion on a pending or proposed bill or legislative reform.
Although vaguely worded exemptions appear to limit the reach of Arizona’s lobbying regulations, the reality is that no one can freely talk to elected officials in Arizona about legislative reform without being threatened by the government. Even if citizens and citizen groups invoke exemptions to avoid the need to register as lobbyists, as the Goldwater Institute has for its analysts, elected officials will still try to silence or impede public testimony as supposedly impermissible lobbying. This is because Arizona’s complex and lengthy lobbying laws encourage elected officials to believe citizens and citizen groups lack legal authority to speak freely on public policy. In effect, citizens are now presumed to have no inherent right to communicate with their representatives. This is an incredibly dangerous development.
In a free society, no politician should think even for a moment that he can require citizens and public interest groups to get the government’s permission to talk to the government.
Unfortunately, Arizona’s lobbying laws threaten this foundational requirement of our representative republic. For that reason, it is time to reform Arizona’s lobbying laws to more fully protect our First Amendment rights, just as we have reformed Arizona’s gun laws to more robustly protect our Second Amendment rights.
Our first freedom should get at least as much respect as our second.
A longer version of this article originally appeared in the Arizona Capitol Times.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.