The DISCLOSE Act, which Democrats hope will help offset some of the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC earlier this year, is nothing if not contentious. Supporters of the campaign finance reform bill say it would limit the role of money in elections. Critics claim it would unconstitutionally suppress free speech and that, for a transparency bill, it seems a little too secretive.
Because the vote in the House Rule Committee to bring the DISCLOSE Act to the floor is expected Thursday, it’s useful to examine now what has been said about the bill on both sides of the aisle. The identities of some of the proponents and opponents of the legislation may best explain who would gain and who would lose if the DISCLOSE Act became law.
|The ACLU |
The DISCLOSE Act fails to preserve the anonymity of small donors, thereby especially chilling the expression rights of those who support controversial causes.
The DISCLOSE Act imposes impractical requirements on those who wish to communicate using broadcasting messages. -more-
Eight former FEC commissioners
As former commissioners on the Federal Election Commission with almost 75 years of combined experience, we believe that the bill proposed on April 30 by Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen to “blunt” the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC is unnecessary, partially duplicative of existing law, and severely burdensome to the right to engage in political speech and advocacy.
Moreover, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act, or Disclose Act, abandons the longstanding policy of treating unions and businesses equally, suggesting partisan motives that undermine respect for campaign finance laws. -more-
Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
Despite its clever name, it is clear that the intent of the DISCLOSE Act is not to promote transparency, but rather to silence political speech by intimidation and onerous regulations. -more-
There are those who say the NRA should put the Second Amendment at risk over a First Amendment principle. That’s easy to say—unless you have a sworn duty to protect the Second Amendment above all else, as we do. -more-
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The legislation’s blanket prohibition on all election-related speech by government contractors is especially problematic. Thousands of corporations regularly participate in contracts with the federal government and, under H.R. 5175, they would be categorically barred from making their political views known. That prohibition on core political speech is flatly unconstitutional and directly inconsistent with Citizens United’s holding that Congress can prohibit political speech only where it has evidence of quid pro quo corruption. -more-
National Right to Life Committee
NRLC is the furthest thing from a “shadow” group. Our organization’s name and contact information always appear on our public communications, and we openly proclaim the public policies that we advocate. There is very little in this bill, despite the pretenses, that is actually intended to provide useful or necessary information to the public. The overriding purpose is precisely the opposite: To discourage, as much as possible, disfavored groups (such as NRLC) from communicating about officeholders, by exposing citizens who support such efforts to harassment and intimidation, and by smothering organizations in layer on layer of record keeping and reporting requirements, all backed by the threat of civil and criminal sanctions. -more-
|The White House |
The Administration believes the DISCLOSE Act is a necessary measure so that Americans will know who is trying to influence the Nation’s elections. H.R. 5175 also prevents those who should not interfere in the Nation’s elections – like corporations controlled by foreign interests – from doing so. Unless strong new disclosure rules are established, the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case will give corporations even greater power to influence elections. -more-
Most significantly, the Act requires corporate CEOs to disclose political spending to their shareholders and requires the true funders of political ads to identify themselves to the voters. After this Act becomes law, corporations will no longer be able to hide behind the Chamber of Commerce or shell entities like ‘Citizens United.’ -more-
The Court’s decision threatens to widen the gulf between corporate power and that of ordinary people, unions and other membership and civic groups. It is imperative that legislation counter the excessive and disproportionate influence by business. We must not allow corporations to hijack the democratic election process from the American people. -more-
League of Women Voters
Secret money, whether foreign or domestic, has no place in America’s democracy. Voters have a right to know – whether it is a corporation, union, trade association, or non-profit advocacy group making unlimited political expenditures and influencing elections. -more-
Letter signed by more than 50 organizations, including the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood
We strongly believe that the Citizens United decision poses a threat to the integrity of the electoral process and we support legislation that provides for effective disclosure, while at the same time protecting free and independent speech and promoting active participation in elections by individuals and organizations. However, we must respectfully express our profound opposition to the effort to create an exemption from the disclosure requirements for large, powerful organizations, which, given the amendment’s language, in reality only applies to one entity, the National Rifle Association. -more-
Indeed, the bill does shine a powerful light on new spending and activities related to corporate political expenditures. Many of the provisions echo the recommendations Sunlight made shortly after the decision came down. For example, the bill creates new stand-by-your ad provisions requiring the leaders of corporations, unions and other organizations to appear in their campaign ads and state they approve the message. It goes even further towards uncovering the true power (and money) behind the ads by also requiring the top funder of an ad to make a stand-by-your-ad disclaimer and by requiring the top five donors to the organization that purchases the ads to be listed on the screen. -more-