Senate Testimony: S. 1 Would Suppress Speech, Violate the First Amendment

Chairman Bradley A. Smith testifies today before Senate Rules and Administration Committee

March 24, 2021   •  By IFS Staff   •  
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Washington, DC – Institute for Free Speech Chairman Bradley A. Smith will tell the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration today that S. 1 threatens free speech and privacy. Smith’s testimony explains that the bill’s extensive regulations on speech would silence many Americans while benefiting politicians and Washington insiders. Many of the legislation’s proposals are unconstitutional.

“Labeling this bill the ‘For the People Act’ is Orwellian. In reality, S. 1 would subsidize the speech of politicians while suppressing the speech of the people… Significant portions of the bill would violate the privacy of advocacy groups and their supporters – including those groups who do nothing more than speak about policy issues before Congress or federal judicial nominees. Other key provisions would limit political speech on the Internet and compel speakers to recite lengthy government-mandated messages in their communications, instead of their own speech,” Smith’s testimony warns.

“S. 1 would impose onerous and unworkable standards on the ability of Americans and groups of Americans to discuss the policy issues of the day with elected officials and the public… The proposal would coerce Americans into funding the campaigns of candidates with which they disagree under a system that research has proven hasn’t lived up to its goals elsewhere,” the testimony continues.

Among the legislation’s biggest violations of First Amendment rights are provisions requiring nonprofit groups to publicly expose their supporters when speaking about government. These requirements will subject Americans to harassment for their beliefs and allow politicians to build enemies lists of contributors to causes they dislike. Smith notes that S. 1 would require groups to name supporters on the face of their communications, despite the fact that in many cases, the contributors “will have provided no funding for the ads. Faced with the prospect of being inaccurately associated with what, by law, would be considered (unjustifiably, in many or most instances) ‘campaign’ ads in FEC reports and disclaimers, many donors will stop giving to nonprofits, or these groups will self-censor.”

Smith, a former chair of the Federal Election Commission who served as commissioner from 2000 to 2005, explains that S. 1 would break the FEC’s independent, bipartisan structure to allow partisan control of the commission. Earlier this year, he and eight other former FEC commissioners wrote a letter to Senate and House leaders detailing the problems with this proposal. Smith’s testimony elaborates on those concerns.

“If you’re a Democrat, would you have wanted Donald Trump to appoint a campaign speech czar to determine and enforce the rules on political campaigns? And if you’re a Republican, would you have wanted those rules enforced by a partisan Democrat? Of course not. That’s why, for over 45 years, Republicans and Democrats have agreed that campaign regulations should be enforced by an independent, bipartisan agency – the Federal Election Commission. The Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency showed the dangers of allowing one party to use the power of government against the other…

“In a nutshell, S. 1 does away with the FEC’s existing bipartisan structure to allow for partisan control of the regulation of campaigns and enable partisan control of enforcement. It also proposes changes to the law to bias enforcement actions against speakers and in favor of complainants,” the testimony explains.

The hearing will begin at 10 AM in Russell Senate Office Building 301. Smith is scheduled to speak via livestream on the second panel, which will focus on the bill’s proposals related to political speech. The hearing will be livestreamed by the Committee here:

S. 1’s counterpart in the House, H.R. 1, passed in early March despite bipartisan opposition. All of the Institute’s analyses and resources related to both bills are available here.

To read Smith’s full written testimony, click here, or go to:

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

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