How’s It Go Again? Congress Shall Make No Law …

Cleta Mitchell, a leading legal expert in election and campaign disclosure law, is also a member of the board of the National Rifle Association, so her sharply critical op-ed in today’s Washington Post, “NRA exemption shows campaign disclosure bill’s cynical, fatal flaws,” warrants special attention.

Mitchell cites the NRA’s own, earlier objections to the DISCLOSE Act’s byzantine and “arbitrary patchwork of reporting and disclosure requirements.”

The NRA’s wheel-squeaking bought it an exemption from those requirements. Tea Party organizations arising spontaneously since 2009? Out of luck. Online organizations with large e-mail followings but perhaps no formal dues structure? Forget it.

Receiving less attention than the NRA “carve-out” but no less cynical is the bill’s sop to organized labor: Aggregate contributions of $600 or more would be disclosed. Why start at $600? Why not $200 or, say, $500? Because most union members’ dues aggregate less than $600 in a calendar year and thus members’ contributions to labor’s campaign-related spending wouldn’t need to be disclosed . . . even to the union members whose dues are spent for political purposes.

In Citizens United, the court held that the First Amendment doesn’t permit Congress to treat different corporations differently; that the protections afforded political speech arise from the Constitution, not Congress. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to a congressional power to license the speech of some while denying it to others.

The NRA carve-out is a clear example of a congressional speech license.

News outlets are reporting that the House may vote on the bill this week, but the Rules Committee has yet to meet to prepare the guidelines for debate. There’s increasing unhappiness among liberal House members and activist groups that by carving out an exemption for the NRA, the bill inadequately limits political speech.

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