Republicans sound free-speech warning as Senate Democrats bring back DISCLOSE Act

Vince Coglianese Editorial Director
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Senate Democrats reintroduced a modified version of the DISCLOSE Act this week, and Republicans are sounding the free-speech alarm.

“This is the single biggest issue nobody is talking about,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told The Daily Caller Thursday.

The law would force corporations, labor groups and super PACs to report the names of donors for every $10,000 in political donations they make. But that amount is where the catch is, Senate GOP sources told TheDC.

The office of Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the bill’s Democratic sponsor, said the reporting threshold was raised from the 2010 level of $600 in order to “focus on large donations and reduce the burden on member[ship] organizations.”

But the average dues-paying union member contributes $500 annually, according to Republicans, placing union contributions far below the $10,000 threshold for public disclosure and protecting a major source of Democratic support from public scrutiny.

Senate Republicans argue that the DISCLOSE Act is little more than an attempt to intimidate conservative donors and chill their free speech rights.

“Billed as ‘reform,’ the measure is an attempt to identify and punish political enemies, or at the very least, intimidate others from participating in the process — an effort that’s already underway,” McConnell wrote in a an op-ed for USA Today last week. “The president has used selective disclosure not as a tool of good government, in other words, but as a political weapon.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the latest push for the DISCLOSE Act has nothing to do with conservative super PACs dramatically outpacing liberals in 2012.

“No, it has nothing to do with that. This is about our democracy. It’s stunning that the Supreme Court would take such an undermining of democracy approach to how we go forward,” Pelosi said in a press conference, referring to the Citizens United decision that declared corporations are constitutionally protected from restrictions on their political giving.

Democrats view forced public disclosure as a means to effectively dismantle Citizens United. Pelosi and others have called for a constitutional amendment to nullify the case.

“I completely disagree with what they did but everybody should disclose and I think we should, that’s why I say, amend the Constitution to do away with that, and reform the system so that we have citizen participation, and get rid of these PACs,” Pelosi said Thursday.

McConnell has been at the forefront of slamming both the legislation and Democratic efforts to amend the Constitution in this way as threats to the First Amendment.

The National Rifle Association, granted an exemption in the 2010 bill, is now also standing in staunch opposition to the 2012 version.

Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, told TheDC that lawmakers who vote for the DISCLOSE Act risk tarnishing their influential NRA candidate ratings.

“The NRA has been around since 1871,” Cox said in a statement. “Our members contribute for the purpose of speaking during elections and participating in the political process.  We will not risk our Association or our members being silenced at election time, as S. 3369 [the DISCLOSE ACT] would do, while the national news media, politicians and others are allowed to attack us at will.”

“The cost of complying with these requirements will be immense; for many associations they may prohibit speaking altogether,” Cox continued. “That violates both the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment.”

The Daily Caller has learned that the bill is scheduled for a cloture vote in the Senate on Monday. This follows on the heels of a private meeting between President Obama and Democratic Senate leaders Wednesday. The group collaborated on setting the election-year legislative schedule, according to the Politico website.

That schedule of Senate votes is sure to serve the president’s campaign needs by framing Republican opposition as regressive or malicious.

The Obama campaign and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office did not return multiple requests for comment.

This article has been updated.

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