An effort by Democrats to close down speech critical of their actions before it can impact the November elections is running into a rocky road in the U.S. House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed action on the proposal while the party regroups and tries to assemble support.
The DISCLOSE Act, pending as H.R. 5175 in the U.S. House and as S. 3295 in the Senate, targets the freedom of speech of companies and groups acknowledged by the U.S. Supreme Court in its "Citizens United" ruling last winter.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the House and Sen. Charles Schumer in the Senate, has 114 co-sponsors with Van Hollen and 49 with Schumer.
Pelosi, however, pulled the proposal from a floor vote and sent members home for the weekend because of turbulence over the plan to impose a new set of reporting and other requirements on a long list of organizations, according to a report in Human Events.
According to the Connie's Congress column, "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."
While moving forward, it still needed additional support, and in recent days a "carve-out" was created that would have exempted the National Rifle Association from its demands, allegedly in exchange for the NRA dropping its opposition.
But analysts say the move backfired, since the Internet ignited with criticism of the organization's "deal with the devil" and other less-complimentary descriptions.
Ed Morrissey at HotAir.com said, "Congress' attempt to repair their attack on the First Amendment, overturned in the 'Citizens United' decision earlier this year, has run off the rails thanks to the machination of its Democratic backers.
"Nancy Pelosi pulled the DISCLOSE Act from the House floor last night after the news of sleazy deals to exempt powerful organizations from the law started leaking to the media. Ironically, it was a rare partnership between the NRA and the Democrats that sealed the bill's fate."
Morrissey reported the vote scheduled today would have been to require special-interest groups to disclose their top donors if they run television ads or mail out information during the run-up to an election.
"What does this say about leadership in the House? Pelosi should have already known how this would have played with her various factions. Cutting a deal with the NRA, who will spend millions fighting progressives in the midterms, is like deliberately winning a battle in order to lose a war from their perspective. It's a caucus in disarray, although unfortunately, Pelosi will probably have the DISCLOSE Act back in some form soon enough," he wrote.
He suggested 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.
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 NRA, which would have fallen into the bill's exempting language, 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.