Disclosure Federal

New version of DISCLOSE Act introduced in Senate

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced a new version of the DISCLOSE Act, a bill to subvert the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

“The cosmetic surgery Sen. Schumer has performed on the DISCLOSE Act has it looking just as ugly,” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former Federal Election Commission Chairman. “It contains the same backroom deals for labor unions and large interests such as the National Rifle Association. Senators should filibuster this modern day Sedition Act.”

This bill has been placed on the Senate Calendar and, according to Capitol Hill sources, majority Democrats will try to rush this legislation through without hearings or meaningful debate. DISCLOSE could be on the Senate floor as soon as next week.

“The American people deserve hearings and robust debate on a 116-page bill designed to rewrite campaign finance laws in the midst of a midterm campaign,” said CCP President Sean Parnell. “This effort to ram a bill of speech prohibitions and regulations through under the banner of disclosure is disingenuous and tramples on the plain meaning of the First Amendment.”

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Union carve-outs in DISCLOSE set chilling precedent

As the U.S. House prepares to vote on the “DISCLOSE Act” today, a deal the majority cut in secret with labor unions is emerging, according to an analysis by the Center for Competitive Politics of the Manager’s Amendment adopted to H.R. 5175 in Wednesday’s House Rules Committee hearing.

“The insider, backroom deals congressional leaders cut with the most powerful interest groups in Washington illustrate why the First Amendment was written to restrict government from regulating political speech,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “The DISCLOSE Act would carve up the First Amendment, doling out free speech rights to favored allies while restricting likely critics as midterm elections approach.”

The Manager’s Amendment seems to contain a glaring carve out for the benefit of labor unions. The amendment, authored by House Administration Chairman Robert Brady, would exempt transfers between affiliated entities up to $50,000 from reporting requirements. But labor unions have a far more generous exemption carved out for themselves. The bill now reads that if the transferred amount is attributable to individual dues paid on a regular basis then the transfer amount is attributable to the individual rather than the organization. The average amount of individual, annual union dues ($377) is well below the bill’s threshold of $600 for mandated disclosure.

In effect, unions would be able to shift unlimited amounts of money through various local and federal entities and never have to report or disclose any of it, while many nonprofits and trade groups would.

In Wednesday’s hearing on the DISCLOSE Act, Democrats also rejected GOP amendments to apply parallel regulations to unions. Amendments that would (1) require unions to certify they do not have minimal foreign membership and (2) ban unions representing employees of government contractors from making political expenditures were denied a vote on the House floor by the majority. Similar amendments were rejected during debate on DISCLOSE by the majority in the House Administration Committee.

“For decades, Congress has ensured that campaign finance restrictions affect labor unions and corporations in similar ways,” said Center for Competitive Politics Vice President of Policy Allison Hayward. “This bill is an ugly conglomeration of vague guidelines and outright speech prohibitions that will sow chaos among grassroots groups seeking to speak out about politics.”

Mother Jones, a left-leaning magazine, first reported that unions were negotiating with the bill’s sponsors in secret to secure this carve-out: “AFSCME is trying to exempt state and local political organizations that accept soft money-that is, unrestricted contributions from individuals or groups-from being regulated under the bill,” the magazine wrote.

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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.

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‘Shotgun Sellout’: House Democrats cut special deal with NRA

House Democrats held a shotgun wedding between campaign finance “reformers” and the National Rifle Association today in announcing a carve out for the powerful gun lobby in a bill responding to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

The “Shotgun Sellout” exempts large organizations from the most burdensome regulations of the DISCLOSE Act, “Democratic Incumbents Seek to Contain Losses by Outlawing Speech in Elections,” while pistol whipping genuine grassroots groups.

“The Democratic majority has decided that established, powerful interest groups should be exempted from the proposed draconian regulations, while small advocacy groups should have their voices silenced by the DISCLOSE Act,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “Exempting the National Rifle Association from these regulations while local groups such as the Oregon Firearms Federation would face stifling regulations if they choose to exercise their First Amendment rights simply cannot be considered ‘reform.'”

“This sort of special carve out for an established interest group is just the kind of insider manipulation that gives the public the sense that Congress is unresponsive to the concerns of ordinary Americans,” said Allison Hayward, CCP’s Vice President of Policy. “How can it be that invasive and onerous disclosure requirements are proper when applied to small, regional interest groups but not large, wealthy national groups?”

“This exception could serve to entrench political organization, discourage local participation in civic groups, and undermine the civic involvement that Alexis de Tocqueville identified as uniquely American and one of America’s great strengths,” she added.

According to Capitol Hill sources, the Rules Committee will likely hold a Wednesday hearing to advance the DISCLOSE Act to the House floor by the end of the week.

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CCP releases policy briefing on ‘DISCLOSE Act’

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) has released a comprehensive, section-by-section analysis of the “DISCLOSE Act” as the House Rules Committee prepares to meet Thursday* to consider further amendments to the campaign finance bill before it reaches the full House.

The 19-page policy briefing for Members of Congress, staff, engaged policy groups, campaign finance lawyers and other interested parties details the numerous policy and constitutional flaws with the bill as its rushed to the floor by Democrats attempting to silence unfriendly voices as midterm elections approach.

“Sponsors of this bill have sought to sell this bill as ‘just disclosure,'” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC Chairman. “Not even its gimmicky title, though, can distract from the fact that this bill imposes criminal penalties for constitutionally-protected political speech, departs from the parallel treatment of unions and companies for the first time in more than 60 years and would confound and chill grassroots groups in the midst of an election cycle.”

The ‘DISCLOSE Act’ would (1) single out business groups for outright bans on political speech: government contractors would be prohibited from engaging in political speech as well as companies in the United States (even those with 80 percent of American shareholders) that attract  minimal foreign investment—no similar restrictions were included for labor unions with foreign connections, unions receiving government money or public employee unions negotiating for salaries and benefits; (2) create a far more onerous and vague disclosure regime than the Supreme Court cited in Citizens United, deterring grassroots groups from speaking out in midterm campaigns; and (3) explicitly sow chaos and confusion among those attempting to comply with campaign finance law by mandating that the law go into effect without clarification by the FEC of numerous vague and undefined provisions as well as slowing down the judicial review process.

CCP also released a two-page overview of the major provisions of the legislation: H.R. 5175 in the House and S. 3295 in the Senate. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Thursday to consider 37 amendments to the legislation before crafting a procedure to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The text of the bill as reported by the House Administration Committee is available here. The Rules Committee has also posted the Administration Committee’s report and a summary of the submitted amendments.

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Center for Competitive Politics analyzes disclosure provisions of ‘DISCLOSE Act’

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) has prepared a legislative analysis of “The DISCLOSE Act” in advance of the House Administration Committee’s 5 p.m. hearing today on the bill. The memo will be filed as written testimony for the committee record.

“The proposals in the “DISCLOSE Act” (Democratic Incumbents Seeking to Contain Losses by Outlawing Speech in Elections) amount to nothing more than political posturing,” said CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith. “This bill would create another bureaucratic layer of political speech regulation, which would punish small business owners and grassroots groups who lack the resources to comply with such onerous provisions.”

The Senate sponsor of the legislation (H.R. 5175 and S. 3295), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), openly admitted he thought the bill would discourage independent ads by companies. Common Cause and Public Campaign circulated a memo last year calling for a new disclosure regime after Citizens United to “expose corporations and candidates to potential embarrassment.”

White House Counsel Bob Bauer wrote about the costs associated with onerous disclosure regimes in while practicing at the law firm Perkins Coie. Bauer explained how disclosure can expose grassroots groups to frivolous legal complaints and other harassment by political opponents:

“So for the committee, donor or vendor whose mandated disclosures are scrutinized by the state and allied nongovernmental ‘watchdogs,’ the disclosure regime is not only a challenge to privacy but also the gateway to entanglement with the legal process,” Bauer wrote in the Election Law Journal (6 Election L.J. 38). “The state is not facilitating an exchange of information with their fellow citizens primarily for their enlightenment. Aided by private organizations well funded in their commitment to campaign finance reform, it is committed to the production and availability of data for the purposes of developing the law and extending its reach.”

The disclosure provisions in the “DISCLOSE Act” (§ 211-213) are unnecessary, as current statutes and FEC regulations prevent the type of opaque spending of money with which the bill’s sponsors are concerned. Knee-jerk legislation imposing a new disclosure regime for groups that wish to speak-months before an election-presents a serious threat to the constitutional protection of political speech. The legislation does not provide time for the FEC to update its regulations, ensuring that groups wishing to speak face confusion and uncertainty about the new laws-perhaps the intent of incumbents wary of criticism.

 “The Democrats who crafted this regulatory maze behind closed doors are demanding that lawmakers rush through this bill as campaign season is already in full swing,” said Vice President Steve Hoersting. “Their allies in the self-styled reform community have implored Republicans to simply support ‘disclosure,’ while admitting that the bill’s intent is to silence disfavored interests.”

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DISCLOSE Act: Democratic leaders push self-serving campaign finance law

Lawmakers are introducing a bill today designed to subvert the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and intimidate dissenting groups into silence as midterm elections approach.

“The First Amendment says ‘Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,’ not ‘Congress should protect some speech, but feel free to hyper-regulate the political speech of businesses and nonprofits,'” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC Chairman.

Twenty-one Republicans voted for McCain-Feingold and still serve in Congress. The fact that Democrats were only able to persuade two Republicans to join their gimmicky bill indicates that the DISCLOSE Act would serve the interests of incumbents, especially the Democratic majority—not the public interest,” Smith said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the immediate past chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, spent three months crafting the bill behind closed doors after rejecting significant Republican input.

The legislation would ban many companies from airing political ads, give candidates a windfall subsidy in ad time to respond to independent ads, regulate long-protected issue advocacy with more restrictive coordination rules and force nonprofits and trade groups to disclose their donors-even if donors don’t intend their funds to be used for influencing elections.

Citizens United vindicated robust political speech no matter the speaker,” said CCP Vice President Stephen M. Hoersting. “The First Amendment does not need a fix from self-serving politicians seeking a monopoly on political speech.”

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Van Hollen intervenes in support of failed campaign finance restriction

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland has filed papers to join the legal battle over the ‘soft money’ ban in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), raising the stakes in an effort by congressional supporters to defend their failed law restricting political speech.

"The federal government doesn’t have the power to regulate the financing of state and local elections," said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC Chairman. "It shouldn’t be able to tell the national political parties they can raise only limited funds for state and local purposes. The court will have the opportunity to examine the flawed decision that national party spending on non-federal campaigns can be restricted to remedy a vague and unjustified corruption concern connected to federal politicians."

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First Amendment group files amicus brief in disclosure case

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) filed an amicus brief today in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a campaign finance case that will be argued before the Supreme Court later this spring. The Supreme Court will decide whether an independent group engaged in non-campaign communications must disclose their donors.

"The government has no anti-corruption or informational interest in the disclosure of non-campaign speech.  Issue discussion among citizens is protected through anonymity," said Stephen M. Hoersting, the Vice Chairman of CCP. "While there is a risk candidates may change positions once elected to reward large contributors, issues don’t change once enacted. Citizens learn nothing about the merits of a filibuster or a tax proposal by knowing if a neighbor donated money to run ads for or against it – and corrupt officials on the opposing side would learn too much."

(more)

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Right to Life seeks Right to Speak – national media release

The Ohio Right to Life Society filed a lawsuit today in federal court challenging an Ohio law mandating that the group report all contributors who contribute $200 or more to the group so that it can run advertisements mentioning the name of a political candidate within 30 days of an election.

"The government cannot simply compile a database of citizens’ political activities without providing a compelling reason," said Stephen Hoersting, vice president of the Center for Competitive Politics and an attorney representing the group. "Compelled disclosure is supposed to put sunlight on the operations of government, not glare on the operations of citizens." 

More after the jump.

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