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Protect Free Speech -- Reject the Campaign Disclosures Bill, H.R. 5175

Written by Ann Shibler on June 18 2010.

The DISCLOSE legislation was introduced in response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that unexpectedly upheld the Constitution and free speech. President Obama and special interest groups along with liberals wanted to curb the effects of that Supreme Court decision, so Rep. Christopher Van Hollen (D-Md.) who called the Supreme Court’s ruling “radical,” and 114 cosponsors acquiesced by introducing H.R. 5175.

The bill would require all groups, corporations, advocacy and lobbying groups, unions, etc., to reveal donations used to support political campaigns. “The top five donors to a group underwritten by corporate or labor money would have to be listed on the screen,” of TV ads explained CQ Today. In addition chief executives would have to appear at the end of political TV advertisements that are funded by their organizations.

The details of the deal the NRA carved out for itself were revealed by the Washington Post:

The proposal would exempt organizations that have more than 1 million members, have been in existence for more than 10 years, have members in all 50 states and raise 15 percent or less of their funds from corporations. Democrats say the new language would apply to only the NRA, since no other organization would qualify under these specific provisions. The NRA, with 4 million members, will not actively oppose the DISCLOSE Act, according to Democratic sources.

Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) who normally supports gun rights, said he was satisfied with the new language. Cosponsor Walter Jones (R. N.C.) who didn’t know the details as of Tuesday evening said he would support the bill anyway. Rep. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had another opinion though: “If there is one thing Americans loathe about Washington, it’s the back-room dealing to win the vote of organizations with power and influence at the expense of everyone else. Taxpayers are still fuming over a health care process where their money was thrown around like a high roller in a hotel lobby to win last-minute votes, and now the same back-room dealing is being repeated with their freedom of speech.”

“This is nothing more than a special deal for the NRA, negotiated behind closed doors, without transparency or public input,” said Jeff Patch, communications director for the Center for Competitive Politics, a free speech advocacy group. He noted that the bill would put a financial strain on small grass-roots organizations with limited resources to comply with “onerous” disclosure requirements, literally taking them out of the political game.

It’s really disturbing that an organization that is supposedly dedicated to ensuring Second Amendment rights for all wouldn’t be just as concerned about helping to ensure First Amendment rights for everyone as well. Instead they are willing to muzzle themselves regarding this DISCLOSE bill and help this onerous legislation snuff out free speech for the little guys as long as they have their own exemption. But one cannot help wondering if there will be more ramifications down the road; will strings be pulled and the NRA made to dance to a new political tune or be muzzled on other pieces of legislation? Certainly their credibility is now greatly in question with this cavalier politics-as-usual attitude.

Regardless of the NRA’s private exemption, H.R. 5175 should be opposed by all who value free speech. Regulating the raising and spending of money on political campaigning is not the government’s job. In fact, such a thing is unconstitutional. As Jack Kenny wrote earlier this year, "[C]orporations are made up of people who have constitutionally-protected rights. Nothing in the Constitution suggests that people lose their right to free speech when joined together in a corporation. And though money is not speech, it is a medium of exchange used to pay for many things, including newsprint and printing presses, TV cameras, microphones, and broadcast towers, as well as advertising." Will the government soon be limiting what publishers and media outlets can spend on their own privately owned businesses that produce newspapers, magazines, or TV broadcasts?

See Raven Clabough's article in The New American magazine, “NRA Trades First Amendment Rights for Second Amendment Rights," for further information about the DISCLOSE Act.

Click here to let your representative and senators know
that you are against this unconstitutional regulatory scheme.

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