June 16th, 2010, Fairfax, VA—Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson today urged Congress to reject the newly proposed so-called DISCLOSE Act as “campaign speech restrictions that seek to chill political discourse by corporations and not-for-profit organizations against incumbent politicians, while leaving in place a special carve-out for media organizations to endorse candidates without any regulation.”
“Under the archaic 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act, newspapers, broadcasting stations, magazines, and other periodicals that publish endorsements are given a blanket exemption against being regulated by the Federal Election Commission. They don’t have to disclose donors. They have no limits on what they can say, or when they can say it,” Wilson noted.
“That’s the way it is supposed to be for everybody,” Wilson declared. “There should be equal protection of the First Amendment, where anyone can talk or write about elections without regulation. Congress has no power to determine which political speech is protected ‘free speech’ and which may be regulated. Yet with the DISCLOSE Act, Congress is still pretending that it does have the power to determine who is free.”
According to 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i): “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.
“Why is the Washington Post ‘more free’ than WalMart?” Wilson asked.
Wilson noted that although corporations would be allowed to make “expenditures” under the bill calling for the election or defeat of candidates for office, “Corporations and not-for-profits would have to comply with labyrinthine, burdensome disclosure requirements in order to do so; meanwhile, other companies by virtue of publishing ‘news’ would still enjoy complete immunity from any regulation.”
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.
“This would require a company or organization to disclose shareholder information, which would have a chilling effect on speech. If the company were publicly-traded, they conceivably would have to submit shareholder information every single trading day to the FEC during the campaign. Meanwhile, ‘news’ organizations would get a pass,” Wilson said.
“That’s just wrong. The First Amendment’s freedom of speech and of the press is supposed to protect the publication of all political opinions, not just state-licensed media outlets,” Wilson concluded.