The First Amendment remains safe for one more day.
Senate Majority Leader Reid voted no, preserving the right to bring the bill back — “reconsideration” — at some future date. Just a gesture, we think. Otherwise, it was a partisan vote, Democrats in support, Republicans opposed. [Here’s the roll call vote.]
In the just-completed debate, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky methodically demolished the arguments for the speech-limiting legislation. The Republican leader frankly addressed the partisan issues at play and added substantive critiques to make his case:
In order to make sure this bill isn’t held up by something as inconvenient as a challenge on first amendment grounds, its authors have made sure no court action interferes with their new restrictions this election cycle and maybe next. They add multiple layers of review. …
The authors of the bill labored behind closed doors to decide who would retain the right to speak; In direct defiance of what the Supreme Court made clear this past January, when Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, “[W]e find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”
That is precisely what the Disclose Act does. It imposes restrictions on speech. And I would note that the one category of speakers upon whom the so-called reformers have bestowed the greatest speech rights in this bill are corporations that own media outlets. So a company that owns a TV network, newspaper or blog can say what they want, when they want, as often as they want.
Yes, newspaper editorialists often prefer to ignore that last point.
UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): The Center for Competitive Politics, an essential resource throughout Congress’ consideration of this ill-conceived bill, has issued a statement, “DISCLOSE Act blocked in Senate.” As is the Center’s wont, the release contains numerous substantive examples of how the bill targeted specific groups with its speech restrictions:
The DISCLOSE Act (S. 2628) also included prohibitions on the political speech of government contractors and companies with a minimal amount of foreign investment-bans that only would have impacted corporations. Labor unions with an interest in taxpayer dollars-such as unions representing employees at government contractors or public employee unions-and unions with foreign membership would not have been affected. These provisions would have prevented ads merely mentioning a candidate’s name up to a year before an election—political speech that was legal even before Citizens United.
The bill also included a gaping carve out for the National Rifle Association and other large, established interest groups, setting up a two-tiered First Amendment: one set of rights for the most powerful organizations and other set of rights for other grassroots groups.
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