Broad Coalition Opposes Targeted Attack on First Amendment
     The U.S. House of Representatives in Session
     The U.S. House of Representatives in Session

More than 50 groups are asking the U.S. House of Representatives to oppose H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act. The group letter was sent today.

The legislation comes in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that rolled back certain campaign-finance restrictions. It aims to expand the scope of such regulations to strangle free speech.

The DISCLOSE Act will place burdensome restrictions on the ability of nonprofits to engage in free speech and advocate for families and consumers. For example, the bill would force a group's top donors to appear in any political commercials, even those who aren't donors to the specific ad. It would also mean that all top donors' names would be disclosed, even if they aren't funding any part of the political communication. CitizenLink and other pro-family groups would be affected.

"The bill aims to silence political speech by intimidation and onerous regulation," the groups wrote.

The group letter is as follows...

Dear Member of the United States House of Representatives, We write on behalf of the millions of taxpayers and concerned citizens represented by our respective organizations to urge Congress to reject H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, an egregious attempt by the majority to stifle political speech.

H.R. 5175 is being sold to the public as a “response” to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. However, this bill uses the ruling as an excuse to expand the scope of campaign finance regulations to strangle free speech. The DISCLOSE Act is constitutionally dubious based on its forced disclosure of the identities of members of an organization. The Supreme Court refused to uphold this type of comprehensive disclosure in NAACP v. Alabama, recognizing that compelled disclosure can be used to intimidate speech.

This bill runs afoul of this precedent in two ways: by forcing the top donors of a group, who are not necessarily the specific donors to an ad, to appear in a political communication and by forcing groups to disclose members of their organization who are not necessarily funding communications. This shifts the regulatory paradigm away from those who are actually funding advertisements and targets, for the first time, individual membership in a group. This inclusive treatment of organizational funding reveals that the intent of this legislation is not true disclosure – it is the intimidation of speech.

The bill also marks a stark departure from the traditional treatment of corporations and unions by applying punitive measures to associations in the corporate form, but not to labor unions. Historically, these entities have been treated interchangeably in campaign finance law. The attempt now to separate these associations amounts to nothing more than partisan maneuvering for political gain and sparks constitutional concerns under the Equal Protection clause.

Moreover, in its recent ruling in Citizens United, the Supreme Court held that the identity of the speaker cannot provide justification for the inhibition of its speech. By allowing union speech while punishing the speech of similar associations, H.R. 5175 does exactly this.

The Committee on House Administration’s rejection of amendments that would have subjected unions to the same treatment as corporations under this bill illustrates the intention of this act – to exclude certain groups from the political dialogue.

The DISCLOSE Act is an unequivocal ban on free speech, masquerading as an exercise in accountability. The bill’s sponsors opine these regulations are necessary after the Citizens United ruling, arguing that it allows corporations to prop up “shadow groups” through which money could be funneled to air independent advertisements.

Such fears are unfounded, since current law is based on the disclosure of money, not groups. Any group, including a 527 group or a 501(c)(4), (c)(5), or (c)(6), must disclose its donations above a certain amount given to fund an independent expenditure or an electioneering communication. The disclosure follows the money, not the actor publishing the ad, so it is impossible for the secretive spending envisioned by the proponents of this bill to take place. Lastly, the bill takes a tenuous stance on foreign entities and their participation in elections. The legislation somewhat vaguely states that a corporation with “foreign ownership” cannot make independent expenditures. This effectively proscribes the First Amendment rights of any American citizens employed by a domestic subsidiary of a foreign corporation, a difficult position to reconcile with the safeguards of the Constitution. The definition of “foreign ownership” also presents pragmatic problems, as it relies on the constitution of a company’s shareholders, which can fluctuate daily in the dynamic global market.

The DISCLOSE Act, while cleverly named, aims to silence political speech by intimidation and onerous regulation. Such efforts should be rejected swiftly. Thus, on behalf of the millions of Americans we represent, we urge you to reject this assault on free speech and to vote against H.R. 5175.

Source: CitizenLink
Publish Date: June 10, 2010
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The IFRL is the largest grassroots pro-life organization in Illinois. A non-profit organization, that serves as the state coordinating body for local pro-life chapters representing thousands of Illinois citizens working to restore respect for all human life in our society. The IFRL is composed of people of different political persuasions, various faiths and diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds. Since 1973 the Illinois Federation for Right to Life has been working to end abortion and restore legal protection to those members of the human family who are threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Diverse though we are, we hold one common belief - that every human being has an inalienable right to life that is precious and must be protected. IFRL is dedicated to restoring the right to life to the unborn, and protection for the disabled and the elderly.   Click here to learn more about the IFRL.