2017 DISCLOSE Act Would Unconstitutionally Restrict Speech, CCP Analysis Finds

September 22, 2017   •  By IFS Staff   •    •  
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Alexandria, VA – The Center for Competitive Politics released an analysis today by Senior Fellow Eric Wang regarding the latest iteration of the DISCLOSE Act. Similar proposals have been introduced in Congress dating back to 2010 with the aim of creating a “deterrent effect” on political speech. The “DISCLOSE Act of 2017” (S. 1585) may be a new bill, but Wang’s analysis concludes that it suffers from the same constitutional deficiencies as previous versions and is even more brazen in its attempt to shut down speech.

To read the analysis, click here, or go to:


“The DISCLOSE Act is a misnomer. Rather than implement meaningful disclosure requirements, the bill attempts to make speaking so burdensome that groups will decide it is not worth the risk,” said Eric Wang, Senior Fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics. “By imposing conditions on political speech that are practically impossible to comply with, the DISCLOSE Act will greatly discourage Americans from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Among other points, Wang’s analysis finds:

  • The DISCLOSE Act would unconstitutionally burden issue speech by expanding the existing “electioneering communications” time windows to regulate speech during more than 10 months of any election year.
  • Groups would have to comply with burdensome reporting and disclaimer requirements if, during the regulated time windows, they sponsor ads that so much as mention the president or members of Congress in an attempt to persuade those officials on legislative issues or executive branch actions.
  • Organizations that make grants will be required to file reports and publicly identify their donors if an organization is deemed to have “reason to know” that a grant recipient has made or will make “campaign-related disbursements.” This vague and subjective standard will greatly increase the legal costs of vetting grants and many groups will simply end grant programs.
  • Despite being promoted as a means of preventing foreign money from influencing elections, the bill has little if anything to do with foreign money. Rather, it is a thinly veiled artifice to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and to shut down political speech by corporations (whether domestic or foreign) altogether.
  • The DISCLOSE Act would effectively prohibit most corporations from contributing to candidates for state and local office, thus usurping the laws in more than half of the states that allow such contributions.
  • While the DISCLOSE Act, at a superficial level, purports to treat corporations and labor unions equally, its restrictions and burdens on political speech would fall disproportionately on corporations, thereby ending the long-standing parity in campaign finance law between corporations and unions.

The Center for Competitive Politics is America’s largest nonprofit working solely to promote and defend First Amendment rights to free political speech, press, assembly, and petition. The “DISCLOSE Act of 2017” (S. 1585) was introduced and sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It is currently with the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

IFS Staff

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