Post-passage DISCLOSE digest

The Center for Competitive Politics statement on the House passage of H.R. 5175—by a narrow, 219-to-206 vote—is here. Action now moves to the Senate. Back in April, Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate sponsor of the “DISCLOSE Act,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid promised him a vote by the July 4 recess.

A brief round-up (more tomorrow) on DISCLOSE Act statements reacting to the House vote…

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

Has the last special deal for labor unions in DISCLOSE Act been found?

Yesterday the House Committee on Rules approved the manager’s amendment to the DISCLOSE Act, as well as deigning to allow five amendments to be debated on the floor today. Early on the debate over the manager’s amendment focused over the special deal that was negotiated behind closed doors with the National Rifle Association, later expanded to exempt the Sierra Club from significant disclosure burdens as well.

More special deals appear to be coming to light today, including a potentially significant one for organized labor.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

Doe, oh dear. USSC opens petitions to use, abuse

The Supreme Court has held today in Doe v. Reed that the release of the identities of individuals who sign a referendum petition does not violate the First Amendment.  As many will recall, this case involved the threatened publicity of signers seeking to overturn state legislation providing for gay marriage.  Supporters of the legislation – who obviously opposed a referendum – wanted to integrate the petition information with maps, to allow their supporters to identify and confront these people.  (Politely?  What do you think?)

The Court held that there isn’t a general right to keep identities secret.  The issue of whether a group could establish a fear of harassment sufficient to protect signers in a specific context was not before the Court.

So, if the question is whether signing a petition is more akin to voting one’s own mind v. voting as a representative of society, the Court seemingly sides with the latter.  No “secret ballot” guarantee. Notwithstanding that many states protect ithe identities of petition signers under state law, and that the Washington Secretary of State did just fine without releasing them until the last few years.  

I’d anticipate that knowledgable people will be less likely to sign petitions in Washington State in the future . . . Transparancy may not always serve democratic values, you know.

Filed Under: Blog

Union carve-outs in DISCLOSE set chilling precedent

As the U.S. House prepares to vote on the “DISCLOSE Act” today, a deal the majority cut in secret with labor unions is emerging, according to an analysis by the Center for Competitive Politics of the Manager’s Amendment adopted to H.R. 5175 in Wednesday’s House Rules Committee hearing.

“The insider, backroom deals congressional leaders cut with the most powerful interest groups in Washington illustrate why the First Amendment was written to restrict government from regulating political speech,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “The DISCLOSE Act would carve up the First Amendment, doling out free speech rights to favored allies while restricting likely critics as midterm elections approach.”

The Manager’s Amendment seems to contain a glaring carve out for the benefit of labor unions. The amendment, authored by House Administration Chairman Robert Brady, would exempt transfers between affiliated entities up to $50,000 from reporting requirements. But labor unions have a far more generous exemption carved out for themselves. The bill now reads that if the transferred amount is attributable to individual dues paid on a regular basis then the transfer amount is attributable to the individual rather than the organization. The average amount of individual, annual union dues ($377) is well below the bill’s threshold of $600 for mandated disclosure.

In effect, unions would be able to shift unlimited amounts of money through various local and federal entities and never have to report or disclose any of it, while many nonprofits and trade groups would.

In Wednesday’s hearing on the DISCLOSE Act, Democrats also rejected GOP amendments to apply parallel regulations to unions. Amendments that would (1) require unions to certify they do not have minimal foreign membership and (2) ban unions representing employees of government contractors from making political expenditures were denied a vote on the House floor by the majority. Similar amendments were rejected during debate on DISCLOSE by the majority in the House Administration Committee.

“For decades, Congress has ensured that campaign finance restrictions affect labor unions and corporations in similar ways,” said Center for Competitive Politics Vice President of Policy Allison Hayward. “This bill is an ugly conglomeration of vague guidelines and outright speech prohibitions that will sow chaos among grassroots groups seeking to speak out about politics.”

Mother Jones, a left-leaning magazine, first reported that unions were negotiating with the bill’s sponsors in secret to secure this carve-out: “AFSCME is trying to exempt state and local political organizations that accept soft money-that is, unrestricted contributions from individuals or groups-from being regulated under the bill,” the magazine wrote.

Filed Under: Disclosure, Disclosure Federal, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, External Relations Press Releases, External Relations Sub-Pages, Federal, Federal Press Releases and Blogs, Press Releases

House majority attempts First Amendment rewrite

The U.S. House passed sweeping restrictions on First Amendment rights under the auspices of disclosure Thursday in a 219-to-206 vote.

“After the passage of the ‘DISCLOSE Act’ in the House, the First Amendment is in imminent danger of being undermined during the heat of an election cycle for partisan purposes,” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former Federal Election Commission Chairman. “The Senate must stop this free-for-all dismantling of the First Amendment based on the interests of incumbents seeking to stifle dissent-not Americans seeking to exercise free speech rights in politics.”

The Democratic majority brushed aside valid and serious constitutional concerns from groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Warren County Regional Chamber of Commerce. In committee and on the floor today, the majority rejected an amendment from Republicans to maintain the expedited judicial review provisions of McCain-Feingold, exposing the truth that this bill is simply about legislating a political advantage in November while denying an opportunity for a judicial check and balance.

“The only way this unconstitutional bill could stand up to judicial scrutiny would be if the First Amendment were to be reinterpreted to mean: ‘Congress shall make laws… abridging the freedom of speech, particularly the political speech of government contractors, energy companies, firms with international investment and trade groups. Congress shall also created a multi-tiered process for exercising First Amendment rights, with labor unions and big lobbying groups enjoying full protection over grassroots groups and disfavored speakers.'”

During the floor debate over the bill, majority Democrats repeatedly insisted the bill was simply about disclosure while ignoring or minimizing discussion of the many outright speech prohibitions included in this legislation: “All we want to know is who’s saying it and who’s paying for it,” said House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Brady.

The Center for Competitive Politics has released an updated, two-page analysis of the DISCLOSE Act, showing how a last-minute amendment by Brady to exempt labor unions from a key provision of the bill—along with other outright prohibitions of political speech—render the bill a flagrant assault on constitutional free speech rights.

“As this blatantly unconstitutional bill moves to the Senate, lawmakers should reject this package of backroom deals, partisan provisions, and speech-stifling measures,” said CCP President Sean Parnell. “In a way, rewriting campaign finance laws while an election is underway to favor labor unions and favored interests has provided transparency to the political process, illustrating why the First Amendment restricts Congress from meddling in the free speech rights of Americans.”

The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to protecting First Amendment political rights. CCP seeks to promote the political marketplace of ideas through research, litigation and advocacy.

Filed Under: Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, External Relations Sub-Pages, Press Releases

Revisions to DISCLOSE on eve of House vote

No fireworks exploded at this afternoon’s House Rules Committee hearing on the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175). First Amendment political rights, though, remain at serious risk of going up in smoke as the majority moves forward with an ill-advised bill to ban a significant amount of political speech that was legal even before Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

After two false starts (one before Memorial Day and the second last week), the Committee adopted a rule that provides for an hour of debate on the bill before a vote, likely Thursday morning, according to Capitol Hill sources.

Rules Committee Ranking Member David Dreier asked for four hours of debate, and, especially considering the 45-page Manager’s Amendment adopted in the Rules Committee with no advance notice, his request was eminently reasonable. All GOP motions, however, were rejected. Dreier also moved to make in order an amendment by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) to eliminate the carve out exempting the National Rifle Association from a disclosure provision of the bill. Democrats also thwarted that effort, endorsing a two-tiered system of First Amendment political rights: one for large, entrenched, Beltway lobbying groups and another for grassroots, local nonprofits.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

More biased polling on Citizens United

This week, congressional Democrats have been touting a polling memo from Obama campaign pollster Joel Benenson that allegedly shows strong public support for the DISCLOSE Act, the current hysterical effort by the self-styled campaign finance “reformer” and their Capitol Hill allies to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Ironically, the memo claiming broad public support for DISCLOSE has until now been, well, undisclosed. But Shopfloor.org, a web site run and maintained by the National Association of Manufacturers, has managed to track down a copy of this secret memo.

The memo is, needless to say, a mind-boggling collection of misstatements and biased questions—and not very fresh ones, either. Anyone who relies on this memo to inform them as to what the American public believes today about the DISCLOSE Act is going to be badly led astray.

To begin, the memo asserts that “80% of voters oppose the ruling,” a curious result given that CCP’s own poll on Citizens United in March found that nearly 60 percent of likely voters were not even aware of the case. If anything, voters are even less aware of the case today—another poll earlier this month by the liberal People for the American Way that also asked extremely biased questions found that 73 percent of voters “have not heard anything” about the Citizens United decision.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

Majority declines to DISCLOSE hearing

A clipboard-toting majority staffer for the House Rules Committee prohibited the public from attending today’s hearing on H.R. 5175, known as the “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections” Act, or DISCLOSE. Apparently, the Democrats decided their version of democracy wasn’t strong enough to allow regular folks to attend their rubber-stamp hearing for the bill.

Laura Renz, the Director of Research & Government Relations for the Center for Competitive Politics, arrived at the Capitol for the hearing well before it’s announced start time. Around 3 p.m., a staffer told Renz and other non-staffers that the committee would only allow key staff and a few members of the media to attend. Several people, including Renz, were turned away from the hearing, even though they arrived before many staffers.

In fairness, the Rules Committee hearing room is notoriously cramped, but the irony of ejecting nonprofit advocates and other interested citizens from a hearing on a “transparency” bill is thick. It’s a good metaphor for the DISCLOSE Act: Congress protects itself; considerations for citizens are an afterthought at best.

Don’t hold your breath for a transcript or video of the hearing, at which House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Brady was slated to present a Manager’s Amendment rewriting the bill, either. The Rules Committee is the poster committee for closed, clubby government.

Chairwoman Loiuse Slaughter’s staff sent the hearing notice to Capitol Hill office less than two hours before the hearing, ensuring that only congressional staff and professional advocates would be able to attend a supposedly public hearing.

Yet, after the Rules Committee clamp-down this afternoon, the hearing can hardly be considered “public.” Openness in government? Slaughtered.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog

DISCLOSE would silence dissent, not promote transparency

The Center for Competitive Politics sent a letter to House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter today addressing an effort by Members of Congress and allies in the self-styled reform community to falsely market the “DISCLOSE Act,” as “just disclosure.”

“As the Rules Committee prepares to advance this speech-chilling bill to the House floor, its supporters are cynically misrepresenting the bill as simply providing transparency and avoiding all mentions of the many outright prohibitions on political speech it would impose on Americans,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell.

A staff member for Congressman Chris Van Hollen was quoted in the The Hill recently as saying “Let’s be clear, the Disclose Act does nothing to limit free speech.” Another article from The Hill quoted a spokesperson for Congressman Mike Castle, one of only two Republican co-sponsors of H.R. 5175, as saying “It’s just disclosure, for God’s sake…”

“Despite the sloganeering by supporters of this bill to gut the First Amendment, the DISCLOSE Act would silence businesses with competitive government contracts, U.S. companies that attract minimal foreign investment and advocacy nonprofits seeking to speak to Americans about issues,” Parnell said.

Filed Under: Disclosure, Disclosure Federal, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, External Relations Press Releases, External Relations Sub-Pages, Federal, Federal Press Releases and Blogs, Press Releases

Van Hollen’s office falsely claims DISCLOSE Act ‘does nothing to limit free speech’

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running ads in newspapers opposing the DISCLOSE Act, the speech-stifling bill that the so-called campaign finance reform community has latched onto as the antidote for Citizens United, which freed business corporations, unions, and nonprofit groups to speak out in elections. The bill’s primary sponsor in the House, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, is not amused.

The Hill reports that Van Hollen staffer Doug Thornell called out the Chamber today, demanding “The Chamber should step forward and disclose who funded this piece. What do they have to hide?”

One answer would probably be “No more than the NRA or the Sierra Club have to hide,” but I’ve been told that such comments aren’t really appreciated by the campaign finance “reform” community these days. No sense of humor or irony, apparently.

Apparently not much in the way of reading comprehension or commitment to accuracy either, judging by Thornell’s other comments.

“Let’s be clear, the Disclose Act does nothing to limit free speech,” [Thornell] said…

Mr. Thornell seems to be unfamiliar with the actual legislation being considered, which contains two explicit and absolute bans on the free speech of for-profit corporations if they receive government contracts above a specified threshold or have foreign ownership totaling as little as 20 percent.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act