Analysis: Major Provisions of H.R. 1 Threaten Free Political Speech

"For the Politicians Act" would regulate the Internet, violate privacy, and compel speech

January 23, 2019   •  By IFS Staff   •    •  , ,
Default Article

Alexandria, VA – The Institute for Free Speech today released an analysis of three speech-chilling sections of H.R. 1, also known as the “For the People Act of 2019.” Those provisions would regulate political speech on the Internet, violate the privacy of advocacy groups and their supporters, and compel speakers to include lengthy government-mandated messages in their communications.

“By making it harder for Americans to speak about government, a better title for the bill would be the ‘For the Politicians Act,'” said Institute for Free Speech President David Keating.

To read the analysis, click here, or go to: https://www.ifs.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2019-01-23_IFS-Analysis_US_HR-1_DISCLOSE-Honest-Ads-And-Stand-By-Every-Ad.pdf.

The Institute’s analysis finds these sections of H.R. 1 would benefit politicians and campaign finance attorneys while harming the public. The legislation’s many restrictions and regulations on speakers would make it harder for Americans to promote ideas about government and to hold elected officials accountable. H.R. 1 would also subject speakers to increased costs from legal and administrative compliance, liability risk, and would harm donor and associational privacy for civic groups that speak about policy issues and politicians.

“H.R. 1 appears to be a slapdash effort to stitch together every unworkable and unconstitutional idea from the past decade about how to increase regulation of Americans’ free speech rights,” said Institute for Free Speech Senior Fellow Eric Wang. “While the bill may be dead on arrival, it is nonetheless a deeply troubling statement of Congress’s priorities and attitudes towards the First Amendment.”

Among other outcomes, H.R. 1’s speech regulations would:

  • Unconstitutionally regulate speech that mentions a federal candidate or elected official at any time under a severely vague, subjective, and broad standard that asks whether the speech “promotes,” “attacks,” “supports,” or “opposes” (“PASO”) the candidate or official.
  • Compel groups to file so-called “campaign-related disbursement” reports with the Federal Election Commission declaring that their ads are either “in support of or in opposition” to the elected official mentioned, even if their ads do neither.
  • Force groups to publicly identify certain donors on these reports for issue ads and on the face of the ads themselves. In many cases, these donors would not have given a cent to support the ads.
  • Force organizations that make grants to file their own reports and publicly identify their own donors if an organization is deemed to have “reason to know” that a donee entity has made or will make “campaign-related disbursements.”
  • Disproportionately burden the political speech rights of corporations, thereby ending the long-standing parity in the campaign finance law between corporations and unions.
  • Expand the universe of regulated online political speech beyond paid advertising to include, apparently, communications on groups’ or individuals’ own websites and e-mail messages.
  • Impose a new and constitutionally dubious public reporting requirement on sponsors of online issue ads by expanding the “public file” requirement for broadcast, cable, and satellite media ads to many online platforms.
  • Impose inflexible disclaimer requirements on online ads that may make many forms of small, popular, and cost-effective ads off-limits for political advertisers.

H.R. 1 was introduced by Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) as the first bill in the House of Representatives for the 116th Congress. The 570-page bill combines a number of pre-existing proposals on campaign finance, political speech, voting rights, and ethics laws. The provisions included in this analysis are identified in the bill under the misleading titles, “DISCLOSE Act,” “Honest Ads Act,” and “Stand by Every Ad Act.” H.R. 1 is co-sponsored by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and more than 200 House Democrats.

The Institute for Free Speech has also created a resource that places relevant provisions of H.R. 1 into current federal code. That document is available here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.

IFS Staff

IFS Staff