Back room deals on DISCLOSE Act threaten First Amendment rights

H.R. 5175 is an attempt by Democrats to overturn a recent Supreme Court decision that found portions of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law to be unconstitutional.  If passed, the bill would negatively affect grassroots organizations that inform voters on ballot issues.

Many groups had stood in opposition to the bill, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), which fears it would be muzzled by the new measure. Reports from Capitol Hill reveal the NRA has struck a deal with lawmakers to exclude the organization from compliance, along with certain corporations.

Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst with CitizenLink, said the Democrats’ move may hinder efforts to stop the legislation. “It’s pretty tough when a handful of groups break the line and carve out an exemption for themselves, leaving the rest of us hanging,” she said. “The majority of groups like ours will definitely be hurt if this bill is enacted.”

A letter from the National Right to Life Committee outlines the potential harm of the legislation. “(The bill) has been carefully crafted to maximize short-term political benefits for the dominant faction of one political party,” the statement reads, “while running roughshod over the First Amendment protections for political speech that have been clearly and forcefully articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court.” 

FRC Action, the legislative advocacy arm of the Family Research Council, is urging Congress to reject the DISCLOSE Act, which would limit free speech for organizations during election cycles. 

Among the bill’s requirements is that organizations must list their top five donors in a television advertisement, regardless of whether or not those donors contributed to the particular campaign.

FRC Action Senior Vice President Tom McClusky said, “Instead of addressing the problems often found in the financing of campaigns, this legislation seeks to add to the already onerous burdens placed on grassroots organizations that have always acted within the law. 

“The main purpose behind this bill, written by the head of the Democratic Congressional Committee and a liberal Republican who fears a primary challenge, is to mute organizations that oppose them in this election. They are very aware that the DISCLOSE Act is unconstitutional. They know that the courts may eventually overturn the law, but not before November 2nd. By then, the damage to free speech will have already been done and the fall election concluded.

“More than 50 nonprofits, including FRC Action, are formally opposing this bill. Regrettably, some organizations, including the National Rifle Association, have chosen to carve out special exceptions to the Act that supposedly would help them protect their supporters. Despite this troubling deal, there’s a strong possibility that the NRA would still have to open up its donor lists to public scrutiny just to meet the strict criteria of this bill. 

“We do not condone their actions. Even if the legislation were to exclude organizations that are led by former state legislators from Louisiana, FRC Action would still oppose this onerous legislation. 

“The focus shouldn’t be protecting one organization over another, but rather protecting the U.S. Constitution. The Second Amendment, Third Amendment, Fourth Amendment and so on mean nothing if not for the protections guaranteed in the First Amendment. FRC Action will score the vote in its annual scorecard of congressional records for the second session of the 111th Congress.”

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