DISCLOSE would silence dissent, not promote transparency

The Center for Competitive Politics sent a letter to House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter today addressing an effort by Members of Congress and allies in the self-styled reform community to falsely market the “DISCLOSE Act,” as “just disclosure.”

“As the Rules Committee prepares to advance this speech-chilling bill to the House floor, its supporters are cynically misrepresenting the bill as simply providing transparency and avoiding all mentions of the many outright prohibitions on political speech it would impose on Americans,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell.

A staff member for Congressman Chris Van Hollen was quoted in the The Hill recently as saying “Let’s be clear, the Disclose Act does nothing to limit free speech.” Another article from The Hill quoted a spokesperson for Congressman Mike Castle, one of only two Republican co-sponsors of H.R. 5175, as saying “It’s just disclosure, for God’s sake…”

“Despite the sloganeering by supporters of this bill to gut the First Amendment, the DISCLOSE Act would silence businesses with competitive government contracts, U.S. companies that attract minimal foreign investment and advocacy nonprofits seeking to speak to Americans about issues,” Parnell said.

The ban on independent political expenditures by government contractors, which directly contradicts the Supreme Courts holding in Citizens United that Congress may not restrict independent speech, would restrict more than half of the 50 largest companies in the United States from advocating for or against candidates.

Under the $10 million threshold reportedly proposed in the Democrats’ Manager’s Amendment, 27 of the 50 largest U.S. companies would be silenced, according to 2009 data available at USASpending.gov. With a few exceptions, the government contracts held by most of these companies are a miniscule portion of total revenues. Unions at these companies would be free to spend on advocacy for or against federal candidates.

“According to press reports, the Committee will craft a rule for this bill as soon as today with floor consideration as soon as tomorrow,” Parnell wrote in the letter. “Considering the importance of this legislation, and the degree to which it takes away First Amendment rights from some while granting privileged status to others, we respectfully ask the Committee to consider allowing an open rule, as late changes and backroom deals made behind closed doors deserve public scrutiny—and an opportunity for Members to consider whether they really want to support these favors for large, well-organized interest groups.”

Groups spanning the political spectrum have criticized the DISCLOSE Act. The American Civil Liberties Union sent a blistering, six-page letter opposing the bill last week. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than 300 business groups sent a letter to Congress today detailing their concerns. A coalition of progressive nonprofit groups led by the Alliance for Justice also sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticizing this legislation.

The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to protecting First Amendment political rights. CCP seeks to promote the political marketplace of ideas through research, litigation and advocacy.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.