Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Really Bad Bill - The Disclose Act

Here comes an all out assault on First Amendment Rights!

This week, H.R. 5175 came out of committee and is now headed for a vote in the House of Representatives, where it is expected to be passed. What H.R. 5175 does is silence many organizations from expressing political opinions and endorsement of candidates seeking office at the Federal level for up to 90 days prior to a primary election. Some specific organizations, like the labor unions, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the AFL-CIO, as well as the powerful AARP will be exempt!

Another "exempt" organization is also (and very disturbingly I might add), the National Rifle Association. It looks like they cut a deal with the Democrats on this one. Shame on them for even considering cutting a deal like this on this legislation! (You can call them to complain, NRA headquarters: 1-800-672-3888 and their Legislative Action group at 1-800-392-8683)

No organization should be subject to exemption BUT ALSO NO Organization should have to give up their membership lists to any government agency!

John Bresnahan of Politico reports,
"The proposal would exempt organizations that have more than 1 million members, have been in existence for more than 10 years, have members in all 50 states and raise 15 percent or less of their funds from corporations... The NRA, with 4 million members, will not actively oppose the DISCLOSE Act, according to Democratic sources."
Unions would also be exempt: The Chamber of Commerce said this:
The legislation would require corporations and labor unions to report donors who have given as little as $600 during the year. Because an average union member pays annual dues far beneath that threshold, most unions would not be required to disclose their donors even when they spend millions of dollars on political advertising.

Citizens United, a Washington lobbying firm that is firmly against the Disclose Act, wrote a letter to Congress but is already informing its corporate clients on how they can use other organizations to avoid disclosure if this monstrosity ever passes into law:
[G]roups of corporations within an industry may form coalitions or use existing trade associations to support candidates favorable to policy positions that affect the group as a whole. While corporations that contribute to these expenditures might still be disclosed, this indirect approach can provide sufficient cover such that no single contributing entity receives the bulk of public scrutiny.

So this bill essentially accomplishes nothing, but it will hurt 1st amendment rights of smaller organizations and others who will not be considered "exempt".

Other provisions of this Bill include:
It would expand the window for "electioneering communications," which was 30 to 60 days under McCain-Feingold, to 90 days before a primary or caucus. During that period, corporations and nonprofits would face stringent procedures for any corporate advertising. The electioneering window, once opened, would continue through to the general election. So because presidential primaries fall well before the election, the restrictions could conceivably be in place for over a year.

The bill requires a mountain of paperwork, because companies must submit a list to the FEC of all donors who contributed more than $600. "In the 1950s, the NAACP went to court to say it should not have to disclose its membership list," Heritage Foundation legal scholar Hans Von Spakovsky says. He contends the provision to disclose members' names poses constitutional problems "because it interferes with their right to associate."

It prohibits any company that received government contracts, or that received TARP bailouts, from spending any money on election advertising.

In a precedent-setting exemption, the Disclose Act for the first time would restrict the activities of nonprofits and companies, but not unions in some cases. Opponents point out that unions recently spent over $10 million in an unsuccessful bid to defeat Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary. "This is the empower-labor-unions-over-everybody-else act," says [Grover] Norquist. "It's making it illegal for Americans to participate in politics."

It bans any advertising from foreign companies, including domestic companies that have 20 percent or more foreign control.

The names of all donors who give $1,000 or more to an organization must be disclosed to the FEC, if the organization spends more than $10,000 on political advertising. Labor unions are included in this provision.

It requires CEOs to appear on camera stating they "approve this message." Those familiar with how political fundraising work say this alone would scare away political speech by the vast majority of companies and associations. Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice, one of the groups that signed the anti-Disclose Act letter, tells Newsmax: "I see this as a threat especially to conservative nonprofits, but really to nonprofits in general, because that's ultimately where the corporate spending that is being attacked here is coming from. Donors very often ask about anonymity. That's important to them. I could see the groups losing a lot of donations. It's meant to have a chilling effect, and it will have a chilling effect. I think it's going to have a horrible effect on nonprofits groups."

The top donor to the organization, who might not have donated any money for that particular ad, would be required to appear in the commercial to provide the public with information on those funding the commercial. Also, a TV ad would have to list the top five funders to the organization, and radio ads would have to disclose the top two funders. Disclose Act opponents point out the additional time required for the burdensome disclosures would make the ads prohibitively expensive.

This bill also leaves in place a special carve-out for media organizations to endorse candidates without any regulation!

According to 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i): "The term 'expenditure' does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication". This media exemption to campaign regulation is reinforced in the DISCLOSE Act's language on page 22.

Americans For Limited Government, President Bill Wilson asks, "Why is the Washington Post 'more free' than WalMart?"

Bill Wilson also declared,
"There should be equal protection of the First Amendment, where anyone can talk or write about elections without regulation. Congress has no power to determine which political speech is protected 'free speech' and which may be regulated. Yet with the DISCLOSE Act, Congress is still pretending that it does have the power to determine who is free."

This is a blatant restriction of free speech.
It restricts some - but not others.
It is clearly unconstitutional!

You are urged to call or write to your Congressman TODAY and tell them to vote against this bill.