The House has just voted to pass H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, 219-206, legislation to deprive people of their constitutional rights based on who is speaking and the content of their speech. The debate was profoundly cynical as supporters of the bill claimed it was all about disclosure, even as they carved out specific exemptions that let labor unions escape transparency and engage in political activities denied to corporations and other, less favored organizations.
The cynical, partisan nature of the bill can be demonstrated by two things:
1. The bill, once signed into law, goes into effect within 30 days, with no opportunity for the Federal Election Commission to draft rules to guide the implementation and enforcement of the law. The bill includes criminal penalties for violations, but provides citizens no clear way to know whether they might be committing a violation. The uncertainty and risk will chill political speech — just time for the November 2010 elections.
2. The bill does not contain any provisions to permit expedited judicial review. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulation bill allowed challenges to the law to move immediately to a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If supporters of H.R. 5175 truly believed their bill was constitutional, they would have embraced such an expedited review. Instead, the provision was kept out of the bill, and a motion to recommit from Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) that included McCain-Feingold-like review language was voted down, 208-217. (Roll Call Vote.)
It’s a sad day for the Constitution.
UPDATE (5:10 p.m.): We Tweeted the entire debate, starting at 10:50 a.m. or so. You can follow the posts here. The morning debate on the rule featured the low points of the day, including behavior that indicated a belief that saying “BP! BP!” amounts to an argument.
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