DISCLOSE: The ‘100 Years’ Falsehood

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Mike Castle (D-DE) start their Washington Post op-ed today on the DISCLOSE Act by misrepresenting the facts and go from there:

On Jan. 21, 2010, the Supreme Court threw out 100 years of established law and legal precedent that protected the integrity of our political process against direct campaign expenditures by big-money special interests.

That’s not true. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Alt and Hans von Spakovsky, a former FEC commissioner, have already debunked the spurious claim of 100 years of precedent. From “The Liberal Mythology of an ‘Activist’ Court: Citizens United and Ledbetter“:

The claims by some, including President Obama, that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision overturned 100 years of precedent are simply untrue. While Congress implemented a statutory ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates in 1907, a ban that Citizens United did not disturb, it did not impose a ban on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions until 1947 when it passed the Labor Management Relations Act. Congress overrode President Truman’s veto of the Act even though he “warned that the expenditure ban was a ‘dangerous intrusion on free speech.’” The constitutionality of such a ban was not reviewed by the Supreme Court for almost three decades after its passage, although the Court expressed its doubts about the act in more than one case.

Former FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith has also addressed the anti-speech talking point in The American Spectator:

[One] would never guess from the left’s hysteria that even prior to Citizens United, 28 states, representing roughly 60 percent of the U.S. population, already allowed corporations and unions to make expenditures promoting or opposing candidates for office in state elections; in 26 states, such corporate and union expenditures were unlimited. Moreover, while the first bans on corporate spending were enacted more than a century ago, prior to the 1990 Austin decision, the Supreme Court had never upheld a ban, or even a limitation, on independent expenditures supporting or opposing a political candidate. It was the misleading contention that the decision overturned “100 years of law and precedent,” that appears to have evoked Justice Alito’s “not true” response to the president’s State of the Union comments.

Today’s Washington Post op-ed from the two sponsors of H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, is headlined, “The Disclose Act is a matter of campaign honesty.” Honest debates should start with honest descriptions of the facts.

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