Monday, June 28, 2010

Pro-lifers say new federal campaign disclosure bill aimed at silencing them:

"Pernicious, unprincipled, and unconstitutional"

The U.S. Senate will soon begin consideration of a bill passed by the House of Representatives on June 24 that pro-life groups say is "a blatant political attack" on their First Amendment rights. 

The bill, the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections), won narrow approval in the U.S. House last Thursday on a vote of 219-206, mostly along party lines. Just two Republicans voted with the majority, while 36 Democrats voted no. Eight members of Congress did not vote. 

"We intend to move the DISCLOSE Act as quickly as possible in the Senate," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, in a statement issued shortly after the House approved the measure. 

"As I stand here this morning, House Democrats are desperately trying to round up the votes they need to pass Congress's latest effort to do what the First Amendment specifically says it can't -- namely, to make a law abridging the freedom of speech," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in a statement on the Senate floor just before the House vote. "The first thing to say about the so-called DISCLOSE Act is that it was authored behind closed doors without even a flicker of sunlight. In other words, a bill that's purportedly about bringing transparency to the electoral system was written without any." 

"This bill isn't about preserving any principle of transparency," said McConnell. "It's about protecting incumbent Democrat politicians." The Kentucky senator accused Democrats of "intentionally protecting some large groups so they can muster the votes to restrict many more citizens groups that have less political clout, but whose participation in the political process the incumbent politicians find inconvenient," citing as an example "one of the biggest special interests of all: the National Rifle Association," which was exempted from the bill's provisions. 

In a June 15 letter to members of the House, the National Right to Life Committee described the DISCLOSE Act as "a blatant political attack on the First Amendment rights of NRLC, our state affiliates, and our members and donors." The NRLC echoed McConnell's statement about the law's exemption for the National Rifle Association, saying it "is not only worthless, but adds insult to injury." 

"We strongly urge you to oppose this pernicious, unprincipled, and unconstitutional legislation," said the NRLC's letter, signed by executive director David N. O'Steen, and legislative director Douglas Johnson. 

A May 27 NRLC letter to Congress joined by a host of conservative and pro-life organizations – including and Students for Life of America – outlined reasons for opposing the bill. "There is very little in this bill, despite the pretenses, that is actually intended to provide useful or necessary information to the public," said the letter. "The overriding purpose is precisely the opposite: To discourage, as much as possible, disfavored groups (such as NRLC) from communicating about officeholders, by exposing citizens who support such efforts to harassment and intimidation, and by smothering organizations in layer on layer of record keeping and reporting requirements, all backed by the threat of civil and criminal sanctions. Indeed, the bill would benefit from a truth-in-labeling amendment to clarify that "DISCLOSE" actually stands for 'Deterring Independent Speech about Congress except by Labor Organizations and Selected Elites.'" 

The bills' sponsors in the Senate – Senators Schumer, Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, and Al Franken, D-Minnesota – said in a statement published on the Senate website that the measure would "blunt the harmful impacts from the Supreme Court's decision allowing corporations and other special interests to spend unlimited sums to influence elections." It was that Supreme Court decision that prompted President Barack Obama to publicly scold members of the high court during his last State of the Union address. 

"The legislation is a response to the Court's ruling in the Citizens United case last January," said the statement. "That decision overturned a decades-old law banning political expenditures by corporate interests. The new Senate legislation would partly restore those limits – by barring foreign-controlled corporations, government contractors and companies that have received government assistance from making political expenditures – and also require corporations, unions, and other organizations that make political expenditures to disclose their donors and stand by their ads." 

Schumer and his co-sponsors said they want the Senate to pass the bill by July 4 "so the law can take effect in time for the 2010 midterm elections." 

Opponents say the bill is unconstitutional and faces substantial opposition in the Senate.