CAMPAIGN: Public Advocacy - Pressing forward, saving civil rights

Client: In Defense of Freedom, an ad-hoc coalition of more than 150

advocacy groups

PR Team: In-house at the various groups

Campaign: Protecting civil liberties in the wake of September 11

Time Frame: Mid-September to October 26, 2001

Budget: Paid for by individual groups

It appeared inevitable following the attacks of September 11 that

Congress would grant American law enforcement agencies greater powers to

investigate, detain, and prosecute criminals. A number of civil liberty

groups based in Washington, DC, however, were concerned that in the rush

to achieve justice, American citizens would have too many basic freedoms

curtailed. In a remarkable display of organization, more than 150 public

advocacy groups came together mere days after the attack - groups that

were in many cases on extreme opposite sides of the political spectrum -

to ensure that the tidal wave of federal resolve and the public thirst

for vengeance didn't wash away the basic rights that characterize

American life.


As remarkable as it was to have so many different groups unite during

such a chaotic time, it was equally challenging to devise a single

statement of purpose - much less a plan of attack - that all could agree

on. "We had a chaotic meeting of 150 people and groups in person or by

conference call, trying to hash out the exact wording on a statement of

principles," recalls Brad Jansen of the Free Congress Foundation.

The plan that emerged from that meeting was for the many groups to

organize themselves into units by political leaning and capability (many

of the groups involved were 501C3 nonprofits, which are forbidden by law

to lobby Congress directly). Those units would then work together on

influencing public opinion and legislation.


The coalition read through a proposal issued by the White House and

marked each item as either a green light (a proposal they had no problem

with), a yellow light (something that needed to be altered or

clarified), or a red light (an item that should be opposed).

The groups took advantage of the varying expertise among them, and

divided up the different items. Depending on their capabilities, some of

the groups spoke exclusively to the media through press releases and

press conferences (which yielded some quick hits in major dailies such

as The Washington Post), while others took their concerns directly to

the administration.

The conservative groups began meeting at the Free Congress Foundation's

weekly luncheons, and sent invites to the administration to join


"The Department of Justice sent somebody over with an hour's notice and

went through the proposal with us section by section," says Jansen, who

was also scheduled to pour on the public pressure from Fox News' The

O'Reilly Factor, but got bumped for an address to Congress by President

Bush. He did, however, testify before the House Judiciary Committee in

the only public hearings on the matter.


"If you look at the administration's proposal and look at our statement

on it, you will see that a lot of the changes were made," says Jansen,

though he concedes that it is difficult to pin down which changes In

Defense of Freedom was directly responsible for. "The feedback we got

from the (Department of Justice) is that they found our insights very


Most journalists characterized the ultimate legislation as having

changed little from the original draft (which is not the same as the

White House's proposal), granting Attorney General John Ashcroft most of

the increased authority he sought.

One major caveat, however, was the inclusion of a "sunset" clause, which

states that those increased powers will expire in four years if not

otherwise decreed by Congress. Jansen expresses mixed feelings about the

clause: "The internal debate was that if there's a sunset clause, they

can put in more bad things. But if you're going to put those bad things

in there, they need to be sunseted."


Several coalition members are combing through the signed bill and

determining if further action needs to be taken to alert the public to

troubling details.

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