DISCLOSE: House to Debate Regulating the First Amendment Thursday

The House of Representatives will take up H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, Thursday morning, moving expeditiously to pass legislation to limit speech by disfavored groups. According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s daily report, the House convenes for business at 10 a.m., and the first vote could occur as early as 11 a.m.

The House Rules Committee today passed a rule (H.Res. 1468) that provides for just an hour of debate, with the possible consideration of five amendments:

1. Ackerman (NY): Would require covered organizations to report required disclosures to shareholders, members or donors in a “clear and conspicuous manner.”

2. King, Steve (IA): Would eliminate all limitations on federal election campaign contributions.

3. Kucinich (OH): Would clarify that the bill would prohibit those with leases on the Outer Continental Shelf from making campaign-related expenditures.

4. Pascrell (NJ), Perriello (VA), Grayson (FL): Would prohibit political expenditures by corporations with significant foreign government ownership and corporations that have a majority of shares owned by foreign nationals.

5. Murphy, Patrick (PA): Would ensure that citizens know if special interests outside their district or state are trying to impact an election by enhancing advertisement disclaimers to include the city and state of the ad funder’s residence or principle office.

Jeff Patch of the Center for Competitive Politics reports on the details of today’s committee discussions as well as each amendment, all (except for Rep. King’s) intended to discourage political speech and involvement.  The most obvious offense against the First Amendment is the proposal from Rep. Kucinich to prohibit campaign expenditures according to whether they have a lease or not. As Jeff observes: “This amendment is a pretty clear example of why the First Amendment is written in absolutist terms to restrict government—’Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…’ Members of Congress can’t help themselves from seeking to silence whatever company or group is disfavored (or may criticize incumbents).”

We expect the House debate Thursday to be full of cynical misdirection and anti-business fulminating, at least as much as an hour of debate will allow. The bottom line is that H.R. 5175 is intended to limit political speech by individuals and groups with whom the sponsors disagree, while protecting those — such as labor unions — favored by the sponsors. In doing so, the DISCLOSE Act undermines the First Amendment rights of all Americans.

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