Disclosing the Assault on Free Speech

As election season approaches, Democrats in the House are scrambling to gather votes to pass the DISCLOSE Act. Even the ACLU criticizes the effect DISCLOSE would have on free speech. The new law would impose restrictions on political advertising by government contractors (but not government grant recipients like Planned Parenthood), and requires any “corporation” that buys political ads to disclose information on all their donors (so that they may be subjected to intimidation).

John Samples notes that there is no public benefit to this infringement of free speech:

Courts have allowed bans on contributions by government contractors to preclude “corruption.” But the proposed prohibitions apply to businesses that want to spend money on political ads. They are not donating money to candidates or to the parties. There can be no exchange of money for favors. Absent the possibility of corruption, these bans on political speech will be invalidated by the courts.

In a bid to garnish necessary support, a deal was cut with the NRA to exempt them from the regulations, if the NRA would not oppose the bill. Groups that have been established for over 10 years, have more than 1 million members, have members in all 50 states, and who receive less than 15% of their funds from corporations are exempt from the bill. Oh, and unions are exempted too!

Effectively, the House is saying Americans need to be protected from small groups, that are young and “geographically contained” that are “trying to influence elections”.

The DISCLOSE Act is another attempt by congress to erode freedom of speech and protect incumbents, as Jacob Sullum nicely summarizes:

In a 1996 law review article, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan warned that campaign finance laws “easily can serve as incumbent-protection devices, insulating current officeholders from challenge and criticism.” The DISCLOSE Act, a speech-squelching bill supported by the man who nominated Kagan, is a good example.

Click here for a recent Cato podcast for more on DISCLOSE.