Critics on both left and right say act will disable grassroots political voices, including Tea Party movement
By Peter J. Smith
WASHINGTON, D.C., June 24, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – With a political audacity that has become characteristic since the caustic health care debates, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve a campaign finance disclosure bill that critics on both the left and the right say will disable grassroots political voices – including the nascent “Tea Party” movement that has been looking to sweep away liberal incumbents in November.
At approximately 4:30 p.m., the House voted 219-206 to approve H.R. 5175, the “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act,” which the National Right to Life Committee, other pro-life, pro-family groups, and even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have condemned as a threat to free speech and free participation in the political process. (See how your representative voted here.)
The Act would force grassroots organizations to release the names of donors and members into a publicly searchable database maintained by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). Opponents of the bill say it would frustrate the ability of grassroots entities to communicate effectively with the public about public policy.
“This is a blatant attack on our organizations, members, and donors,” said Douglas Johnson, NRLC’s Legislative Director. “National Right to Life will do everything possible to keep this bill from coming out of the Senate.”
Johnson said that stopping the Senate from approving its version (S 3295) of the DISCLOSE Act is “a jump ball.”
“I think we have to take it very seriously. There are already 50 cosponsors of the bill in the Senate. But as you know, the Senate has different rules, and we will certainly do our best to persuade any Senator who will listen that this bill is unconstitutional, unprincipled, and nakedly partisan.”
Should the Senate approve the DISCLOSE Act, and should it be signed into law by President Barack Obama, the act would take effect in 30 days, even if the Federal Elections Commission has not yet crafted new guidelines – just in time for the mid-term elections in November.
During the one-hour debate on the bill, Rep. Dan Lungren expressed outrage that unlike every other campaign finance bill passed by the House, this bill has no provision for expedited judicial review. He said the lack of such a provision makes it clear the DISCLOSE Act is meant to influence the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections.
He also expressed frustration that so little time was given the House to debate a matter impacting Americans’ First Amendment rights.
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“We have spent 40 hours in this Congress naming post offices. Can’t we spend a little time protecting the Constitution of the United States?” Lungren exclaimed.
“We’re talking about political speech: the essence of the First Amendment.”
Under the bill, all groups subject to the law’s requirements – including most 501(c)4, 501(c)5, 501(c)6, and 527 groups – would have to list all donors of $600 or more with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Groups must also post a hyperlink on their website to the FEC, where a list of the names of their donors can be accessed.
But the DISCLOSE Act exempts large 501(c)4 groups – like the 4 million strong NRA and 750,000 member Sierra Club – from having to report their donors if they have at least 500,000 members, over 10 years of existence, chapters in all 50 states, and receive no more than 15% of total contributions from corporations.
Unions also have significant exemptions. Most union dues are under $600 dollars, and so do not have to be reported. Union to union money transfers also do not have to be disclosed.
In a letter to Congress, the ACLU noted the irony that a bill ostensibly dedicated to uprooting corruption in the political process would exempt entrenched “mainstream” political interests from its reporting requirements, while “smaller organizations and those just starting out would have to disclose their donors in order to engage in political speech.”
“Those groups not challenging the status quo would be protected; those challenging the status quo would be suppressed,” they concluded.
House members had virtually no time to read the final version of the bill approved yesterday behind closed doors by the House Rules Committee. Instead of waiting for Congressmen and their staff to analyze the final bill, the Democrat leadership forced through today’s vote today by invoking a “Martial Law Rule.”
The Martial Law Rule dispenses with a longstanding House rule (Rule XIII(6)(a)) intended to give U.S. Representatives and the public enough time to understand significant legislation. The rule requires that there be at least one day between a bill’s unveiling and the House floor vote, and can only be suspended if two-thirds of the House agrees – but the Martial Law Rule dispenses with that process entirely.
Critics on both the left and the right have denounced the tactic, saying it empowers a party’s leadership to act in an authoritarian manner and endangers democratic self-government by forcing members to vote blindly on measures demanded by their leaders.
The bill requires that every time an organization runs a campaign ad, its CEO must appear in the ad and twice state his name and the organization’s name. The top five funders of the organization behind the ad – even if they had nothing to do with the ad’s funding – must also have their names listed in the ad.
In addition, the most “significant” donor to the organization must list his name, rank, and organization three times in the ad.
Critics of the bill say that the disclaimers effectively devour valuable airtime bought by these groups that would otherwise be used to inform voters about a candidate’s record.
“We’re getting a little silly here. We’re talking about making disclaimers that are going to take the entire time of a commercial,” stated Rep. Lungren during debate.
He also expressed grave concern that individuals – with names and addresses publicly available – would be subject to reprisals for making a political statement. He pointed to the situation in California, where supporters of Proposition 8 have been victims of reprisals by homosexualist activists.
“We are chilling speech already, and now we are getting into direct intimidation by requiring the residence of people living there,” he said.
Other affected entities under the bill will likely include vocal liberal and conservative groups that communicate through the internet. While traditional media organizations like newspapers and television stations are exempt from the bill, bloggers, the vanguard of the “new media,” are not.
How representatives voted – click here.
Contact information for the U.S. House of Representatives – click here.
Contact information for the U.S. Senate – click here.
See related coverage by LifeSiteNews.com:
Breaking: House Dems Preparing Thursday DISCLOSE Act Vote to Muzzle Pro-life, Pro-family Groups
Congress to Vote on DISCLOSE Act – Condemned by Pro-Life, Pro-Family Groups