DISCLOSE Act: Still Chilling Political Speech

President Obama is scheduled to make a statement in the White House Rose Garden at 2:20 p.m. today about the DISCLOSE Act, pending legislation in the Senate that supporters call “campaign finance reform” but is really legislation meant to chill political speech during the 2010 campaign.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) on Thursday introduced a new, slightly modified of the DISCLOSE Act, the legislative response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which affirmed the First Amendment rights of groups — including trade associations and corporations — to spend money to express a political point of view. The new bill, S. 3628, offers marginal improvements, but the underlying attack against political speech remains unacceptable.

The Schumer changes — or change: requiring disclosure when unions transfer funds among affiliaites — allow supporters to pretend sans guffaw that the bill isn’t quite as one-sided for Big Labor as critics claim.

Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics outlines why the bill remains hostile to business while favoring labor. From “DISCLOSE Act still overwhelmingly favors unions“:

Then as now, the two main provisions of DISCLOSE that severely restrict the First Amendment rights of business corporations while ignoring unions with similar alleged conflicts are the ban on government contractors and on business corporations with even minimal foreign investment making expenditures.

The contractor ban is the most sweeping and far reaching, and would effectively prohibit political speech by most large corporations in the country. The fact is that most companies of any large size in the country probably has some government contract…[snip]

Meanwhile, unions who represent workers at these companies are free to run all the ads they want. While there have been a few feeble attempts to justify this sort of disparity, the fact is that the likelihood of undue influence, corruption, or its appearance is identical at government contractors as it is with the unions at government contractors.

The conventional wisdom is that Senate Majority Leader Reid is bringing the DISCLOSE Act to a vote this week as political calculation, knowing that he lacks the votes to break a filibuster but still believing the measure will be popular with voters. But the polling we’ve seen on the issue has been tendentious, designed to produce the desired results and sound-bites about “foreign oil companies drowning out the public.” Supporters of the bill are the usual suspects: either partisans or goo-goo activists who are offended by robust speech.

Opponents, on the other hand, span the political spectrum, from the American Civil Liberties Union — which urged a Senate no vote today — and the National Right to Life Committee, which sent Senators a letter expressing strong opposition last week. What unites these groups is a belief in the rights of citizens to express their political views.

We await the President’s remarks this afternoon, hoping that he, too, believes in that right.

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