The Center for Competitive Politics and fellow travelers who support First Amendment rights in politics won a major battle today as the DISCLOSE Act failed on a party-line, procedural vote (57-to-41). But the fight is not over.
Minutes after the vote, Democracy21 and other pro-regulation groups vowed a lame duck effort to pass this bill in September. The Hill quotes the bill’s Senate sponsor, Chuck Schumer, as saying the majority will attempt to “go back at this bill again and again and again until we pass it.”
Here’s an excerpt from CCP’s release on the vote:
“This bill wasn’t about disclosure, it was an attempt by the majority to legislate an electoral advantage fewer than 100 days before the midterm elections,” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC Chairman. “Senators who support free speech in politics must remain vigilant to make sure these campaign finance restrictions aren’t pushed through on a later vote or in a lame duck session.”
Despite the removal of one of the bill’s special deals for unions—an exemption for transfers among affiliate groups—the bill would have included several provisions to curb the political speech of business groups while leaving unions largely unscathed. Although the disclosure provisions would have impacted labor unions, the $600 threshold was designed to effectively exempt unions.
The DISCLOSE Act (S. 2628) also included prohibitions on the political speech of government contractors and companies with a minimal amount of foreign investment-bans that only would have impacted corporations. Labor unions with an interest in taxpayer dollars—such as unions representing employees at government contractors or public employee unions—and unions with foreign membership would not have been affected. These provisions would have prevented ads merely mentioning a candidate’s name up to a year before an election-political speech that was legal even before Citizens United.
The bill also included a gaping carve out for the National Rifle Association and other large, established interest groups, setting up a two-tiered First Amendment: one set of rights for the most powerful organizations and other set of rights for other grassroots groups.
“The DISCLOSE Act exemplifies what skeptics of campaign finance regulation have been saying for years: ‘reform’ is often a self-serving effort to benefit those writing the laws,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “This bill was written largely in secret, included backroom deals cut with powerful interests, and was designed to favor the political interests of the majority party by silencing Americans who would dare to speak out in the upcoming elections.”