June 23rd, 2010, Fairfax, VA—Today, the House Rules Committee is expected to send the so-called DISCLOSE Act to the floor of the House for an expected vote tomorrow, but Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson says that “House Democrats have done nothing to remove controversial campaign speech restrictions against corporations and not-for-profit organizations to endorse candidates without regulation.”
“Meanwhile, the bill still leaves in place an archaic, blanket exemption for media organizations, who do not have to disclose donors and can say what they want, when they want, for or against candidates,” Wilson said.
“No bribery crisis of elected officials has ever emerged over editorial endorsements by newspapers or any other media outlet, and yet they have long been exempted from disclosure. Meanwhile, we assume that such a crisis exists with all other speech,” Wilson said.
According to 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i), the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act: “The term ‘expenditure’ does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication”. This media exemption to campaign regulation is reinforced in the DISCLOSE Act’s language on page 22.
“The First Amendment is supposed to extend to all individuals and groups of individuals, but instead Congress continues with its curious interpretation of freedom of speech and of the press where certain, politically-favored groups, including media, are completely protected from regulation, and others are not,” Wilson said.
“Why is the Los Angeles Times ‘more free’ than Exxon-Mobil?” Wilson asked.
House members have also added special exemptions for labor unions, the National Rifle Association, and reportedly AARP and the Humane Society as well, drawing criticism from both liberal and conservative groups.
The Act’s disclosure requirements include any expenditures in excess of $10,000 of express advocacy for or against a candidate, which must be reported to the FEC within 24 hours. The disclosure requirements extend to 120 days prior to the first presidential primary or caucus, and 90 days before the first Congressional primary or caucus, and extend through general election day. Anyone who invests or donates $1,000 or more to the company or organization that engages in express advocacy of a candidate, except for media organizations, would have to have their names submitted to the FEC.
Wilson said that anonymous donations made to groups that solely make independent expenditures should be protected as they were in NAACP v. Alabama (1958). Then Justice Harlan’s majority opinion stated, applying the First Amendment via the Fourteenth to Alabama, “We hold that the immunity from state scrutiny of membership lists which the Association claims on behalf of its members is here so related to the right of the members to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in so doing as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
“The Constitution only provides for one, consistent application of the First Amendment, that Congress shall make no law abridging speech under any circumstances. Yet Congress persists in attempting to do just that, and uses exemptions to their unconstitutional regulations to buy off support, whether from media or certain non-profit organizations,” Wilson concluded.
Disclosure is Overrated, by ALG News Senior Editor Robert Romano, June 21st, 2010.