A bill free-speech advocates have described as a “pernicious” facilitator of the censorship of political comments critical of the Democrat majority was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives today.
“This is a backroom deal to shred our Constitution for raw, ugly, partisan gain,” Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House minority leader, said after the vote today endorsing H.R. 5175.
According to a report in Human Events, the plan to require “disclosure” of donations and leaders of various groups that may release ads or make statements about political issues actually targets the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices in the “Citizens United v. FEC” ruling last winter found that freedom of speech applies to everyone including people, corporations and other organizations. The DISCLOSE Act, H.R. 5175, would apply a long list of new reporting requirements for groups that haven’t met favor with the Democrats.
It was a decision that Obama publicly criticized the justices for making while they were in the audience at his State of the Union address.
At Human Events, the Connie’s Congress column said, “Democrats have been scrambling to shut down conservative political speech before the November elections this year since the January U.S. Supreme Court decision in ‘Citizens United v. FEC’ that found freedom of speech applies to everyone: individuals, corporations and unions.
“Discontented with a more level playing field, Democrats threw together the DISCLOSE Act, a very lengthy and complicated piece of legislation designed solely to undo the court’s decision.”
“The First Amendment says ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.’ It’s first for a reason. Freedom of speech is the basis of our democracy,” Boehner said. “The purpose of this bill, plain and simple, is to allow Democrats to use their majority in this House to silence their political opponents.”
President Obama, as chief of the Democrat majority, however, was pleased with the new limits.
“It mandates unprecedented transparency in campaign spending, and it ensures that corporations who spend money on American elections are accountable first and foremost to the American people,” Obama said in a statement after the vote. He did note, however, there were “exemptions” in the bill to which he objected.
Boehner’s criticism, however, went further. He accused Democrats of violating their oaths of office to support the U.S. Constitution.
“With this misguided bill, Democrats would restrict free speech and violate the First Amendment. But not for everyone. This bill would muzzle small businesses but protect labor unions. It allows the Humane Society to speak freely, but not the Farm Bureau. It would protect the AARP’s rights, but not 60-Plus. And lastly it would protect the National Rifle Association but not the National Right to Life. The NRA is carved out and gets a special deal in this bill. The NRA is all about protecting the Second Amendment, but apparently its leaders don’t care about protecting the First Amendment. That’s very disappointing,” he said.
“Since the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the First Amendment, Democrats have maintained their bill would ‘apply equally across the board’ to corporations, labor unions and advocacy organizations alike. Instead, they produced a bill full of loopholes designed to help their friends while silencing their political opponents. We in this House take an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.’ A vote for this bill violates that oath,” Boehner said.
It was only about a week ago when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed a vote on the plan because of the huge backlash created by the exemption created for the NRA.
But analysts said the move backfired, since the Internet ignited with criticism of the organization’s “deal with the devil” and other less-complimentary descriptions.
At the time, Ed Morrissey at HotAir.com said Congress “should just read the First Amendment and get someone to explain the big words.”
In Washington’s bureaucratic language, the bill would require “corporations, labor organizations, tax-exempt charitable organizations and political organizations other than political committees (covered organizations) to include specified additional information in reports on independent expenditures of at least $10,000, including certain actual or deemed transfers of money to other persons, but excluding amounts paid from separate segregated funds as well as amounts designated for specified campaign-related activities.”
It also would create “restrictions on the use of donated funds” and “requires any electioneering communication transmitted through radio or television which is paid for by a political committee (including a political committee of a political party), other than a political committee which makes only electioneering communications or independent expenditures consisting of public communications, to include an audio statement identifying the name of the political committee responsible.”
That means donors would have to be made public and leaders of such organizations identified in ads.
A companion piece already has been introduced in the Senate.
The National Right to Life Committee said in a letter to Congress the effort was an “attack on the First Amendment rights of your constituents and the private organizations with which they choose to associate.”
It accused members of Congress of attempting “to discourage, as much as possible, disfavored groups (such as the National Right to Life Committee) from communicating about officeholders, by exposing citizens who support such efforts to harassment and intimidation, and by smothering organizations in layer on layer of record-keeping and reporting requirements, all backed by the threat of civil and criminal sanctions.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects the right of incorporated groups of citizens to communicate with the public to express opinions about the actions of those who hold or seek federal office. The authors of the DISCLOSE Act have demonstrated that their overriding intent is to impede and deter the exercise of that constitutional right,” the organization said. “The justifications offered for such legislation rest on the unspoken premise that the American people lack the capacity to properly evaluate advertising or other forms of mass communication, so the incumbent lawmakers will take it upon themselves to protect their hapless constituents from such troublesome communications, in order to prevent them from being ‘unduly influenced’ – and all of this is being deemed necessary to ‘protect democracy.’”
The bottom line?
“We strongly urge you to oppose this pernicious, unprincipled and unconstitutional legislation,” the committee said.
Even some whose groups would have been favored were outraged.
Cleta Mitchell, a member of the board of directors for the National Rifle Association, which is exempted under the Democrats’ plan, wrote in a newspaper column the true purpose of the DISCLOSE Act is to “silence congressional critics in the 2010 elections.”
“Since the court’s January decision in ‘Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission’ that corporations cannot be constitutionally prohibited from making independent candidate-related expenditures, Democrats have been hyperventilating at the notion that corporations might spend millions of dollars criticizing them,” she wrote. “To foreclose that possibility, the DISCLOSE Act would impose onerous and complicated ‘disclosure’ restrictions on organizations that dare to engage in constitutionally protected political speech and on corporations that dare to contribute to such organizations.
“The DISCLOSE Act isn’t really intended to elicit information not currently required by law. The act serves notice on certain speakers that their involvement in the political process will exact a high price of regulation, penalty and notoriety, using disclosure and reporting as a subterfuge to chill their political speech and association,” she wrote.
“It is only disclosure, say the authors. And box-cutters are only handy household tools … until they are used by terrorists to crash airplanes,” she wrote.