Coalition Opposes Targeted Attack on First Amendment
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
"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.
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.