Federal Press Releases and Blogs

New version of DISCLOSE Act introduced in Senate

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced a new version of the DISCLOSE Act, a bill to subvert the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

“The cosmetic surgery Sen. Schumer has performed on the DISCLOSE Act has it looking just as ugly,” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former Federal Election Commission Chairman. “It contains the same backroom deals for labor unions and large interests such as the National Rifle Association. Senators should filibuster this modern day Sedition Act.”

This bill has been placed on the Senate Calendar and, according to Capitol Hill sources, majority Democrats will try to rush this legislation through without hearings or meaningful debate. DISCLOSE could be on the Senate floor as soon as next week.

“The American people deserve hearings and robust debate on a 116-page bill designed to rewrite campaign finance laws in the midst of a midterm campaign,” said CCP President Sean Parnell. “This effort to ram a bill of speech prohibitions and regulations through under the banner of disclosure is disingenuous and tramples on the plain meaning of the First Amendment.”

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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.

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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.

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Group challenges Indiana ‘robocall’ law

The nonprofit group Patriotic Veterans has filed a federal lawsuit challenging an Indiana law that restricts political speech via phone.

Indiana law bars prerecorded telephone calls that contain a political message, which violates the free speech rights of advocacy organizations such as the Illinois-based Patriotic Veterans, Inc. The group plans political calls in advance of the 2010 general election.

“Pre-recorded phone calls are one of the most cost-effective ways a low-budget campaign can reach voters. This is not about reasonable restrictions on the hours that such calls may be made or the ability of citizens to opt out,” said Bradley A. Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former Federal Election Commission chairman. “Placing an outright ban on this form of political speech deprives Indiana residents of political information that many want to receive. Indiana’s law does not limit phone calls, or even the hours they may be made—it merely makes them more expensive, entrenching the existing political establishment.”

Patriotic Veterans is represented by the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit group, and Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

 

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CCP releases policy briefing on ‘DISCLOSE Act’

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) has released a comprehensive, section-by-section analysis of the “DISCLOSE Act” as the House Rules Committee prepares to meet Thursday* to consider further amendments to the campaign finance bill before it reaches the full House.

The 19-page policy briefing for Members of Congress, staff, engaged policy groups, campaign finance lawyers and other interested parties details the numerous policy and constitutional flaws with the bill as its rushed to the floor by Democrats attempting to silence unfriendly voices as midterm elections approach.

“Sponsors of this bill have sought to sell this bill as ‘just disclosure,'” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC Chairman. “Not even its gimmicky title, though, can distract from the fact that this bill imposes criminal penalties for constitutionally-protected political speech, departs from the parallel treatment of unions and companies for the first time in more than 60 years and would confound and chill grassroots groups in the midst of an election cycle.”

The ‘DISCLOSE Act’ would (1) single out business groups for outright bans on political speech: government contractors would be prohibited from engaging in political speech as well as companies in the United States (even those with 80 percent of American shareholders) that attract  minimal foreign investment—no similar restrictions were included for labor unions with foreign connections, unions receiving government money or public employee unions negotiating for salaries and benefits; (2) create a far more onerous and vague disclosure regime than the Supreme Court cited in Citizens United, deterring grassroots groups from speaking out in midterm campaigns; and (3) explicitly sow chaos and confusion among those attempting to comply with campaign finance law by mandating that the law go into effect without clarification by the FEC of numerous vague and undefined provisions as well as slowing down the judicial review process.

CCP also released a two-page overview of the major provisions of the legislation: H.R. 5175 in the House and S. 3295 in the Senate. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Thursday to consider 37 amendments to the legislation before crafting a procedure to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The text of the bill as reported by the House Administration Committee is available here. The Rules Committee has also posted the Administration Committee’s report and a summary of the submitted amendments.

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Center for Competitive Politics analyzes disclosure provisions of ‘DISCLOSE Act’

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) has prepared a legislative analysis of “The DISCLOSE Act” in advance of the House Administration Committee’s 5 p.m. hearing today on the bill. The memo will be filed as written testimony for the committee record.

“The proposals in the “DISCLOSE Act” (Democratic Incumbents Seeking to Contain Losses by Outlawing Speech in Elections) amount to nothing more than political posturing,” said CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith. “This bill would create another bureaucratic layer of political speech regulation, which would punish small business owners and grassroots groups who lack the resources to comply with such onerous provisions.”

The Senate sponsor of the legislation (H.R. 5175 and S. 3295), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), openly admitted he thought the bill would discourage independent ads by companies. Common Cause and Public Campaign circulated a memo last year calling for a new disclosure regime after Citizens United to “expose corporations and candidates to potential embarrassment.”

White House Counsel Bob Bauer wrote about the costs associated with onerous disclosure regimes in while practicing at the law firm Perkins Coie. Bauer explained how disclosure can expose grassroots groups to frivolous legal complaints and other harassment by political opponents:

“So for the committee, donor or vendor whose mandated disclosures are scrutinized by the state and allied nongovernmental ‘watchdogs,’ the disclosure regime is not only a challenge to privacy but also the gateway to entanglement with the legal process,” Bauer wrote in the Election Law Journal (6 Election L.J. 38). “The state is not facilitating an exchange of information with their fellow citizens primarily for their enlightenment. Aided by private organizations well funded in their commitment to campaign finance reform, it is committed to the production and availability of data for the purposes of developing the law and extending its reach.”

The disclosure provisions in the “DISCLOSE Act” (§ 211-213) are unnecessary, as current statutes and FEC regulations prevent the type of opaque spending of money with which the bill’s sponsors are concerned. Knee-jerk legislation imposing a new disclosure regime for groups that wish to speak-months before an election-presents a serious threat to the constitutional protection of political speech. The legislation does not provide time for the FEC to update its regulations, ensuring that groups wishing to speak face confusion and uncertainty about the new laws-perhaps the intent of incumbents wary of criticism.

 “The Democrats who crafted this regulatory maze behind closed doors are demanding that lawmakers rush through this bill as campaign season is already in full swing,” said Vice President Steve Hoersting. “Their allies in the self-styled reform community have implored Republicans to simply support ‘disclosure,’ while admitting that the bill’s intent is to silence disfavored interests.”

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DISCLOSE Act: Democratic leaders push self-serving campaign finance law

Lawmakers are introducing a bill today designed to subvert the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and intimidate dissenting groups into silence as midterm elections approach.

“The First Amendment says ‘Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,’ not ‘Congress should protect some speech, but feel free to hyper-regulate the political speech of businesses and nonprofits,'” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC Chairman.

Twenty-one Republicans voted for McCain-Feingold and still serve in Congress. The fact that Democrats were only able to persuade two Republicans to join their gimmicky bill indicates that the DISCLOSE Act would serve the interests of incumbents, especially the Democratic majority—not the public interest,” Smith said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the immediate past chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, spent three months crafting the bill behind closed doors after rejecting significant Republican input.

The legislation would ban many companies from airing political ads, give candidates a windfall subsidy in ad time to respond to independent ads, regulate long-protected issue advocacy with more restrictive coordination rules and force nonprofits and trade groups to disclose their donors-even if donors don’t intend their funds to be used for influencing elections.

Citizens United vindicated robust political speech no matter the speaker,” said CCP Vice President Stephen M. Hoersting. “The First Amendment does not need a fix from self-serving politicians seeking a monopoly on political speech.”

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CCP: Wis. taxpayer financing bill unconstitutional

The Center for Competitive Politics criticized as a proven failure and unconstitutional the recently-passed bill to implement taxpayer financed judicial campaigns in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin state legislature passed the bill Thursday and Gov. Jim Doyle is expected to sign the measure.

“This program will do nothing to reduce money spent in campaigns for the Supreme Court, while penalizing the free speech of candidates who decide not to accept a government handout,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear in its rulings that giving advantages to some candidates based on the free exercise of the First Amendment by others is not permissible.”

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CCP submits comments for judicial recusal hearing

The Center for Competitive Politics has submitted comments with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in advance of a Wednesday hearing on judicial recusal rules.

“The recent Supreme Court ruling on judicial recusal stressed its limited impact and scope,” said Center for Competitive Politics Research Director Laura Renz. “Wisconsin should not overreach by crafting recusal standards that go far beyond what the Supreme Court has required, chilling free speech in the process.”

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Problematic campaign finance bill held in N.C.

North Carolina’s Senate Judiciary Committee tabled consideration of a problematic campaign finance bill in advance of a hearing today after the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) sent a legislative memo to members of the committee detailing several constitutional flaws.

The proposed bill’s attempt to conform North Carolina’s “electioneering communications” provisions to federal standards is unconstitutional and would chill the speech of North Carolina citizens.

“These provisions are an unconstitutional effort to regulate ads beyond broadcast communications,” said Stephen M. Hoersting, CCP’s Vice President and the author of the memo. “Proposed regulations for electioneering communications are now pending before the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC. Passing the bill’s proposed campaign finance restrictions before the Court decides this case will likely prompt an expensive constitutional challenge down the road.”

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