The Disclose Act that House Democrats passed Thursday would "shred" the U.S. Constitution and represents a "blatant partisan maneuver to protect their incumbency," according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President R. Bruce Josten.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Josten says the Disclose Act, which passed by a 219 to 206 margin, reveals just how much Democrats fear the nation's rising anti-incumbent fervor.
"I think it's clear what's going on here," says Josten. "The House Democratic majority and the Senate Democratic majority in Congress are clearly trying to tilt the playing field in the middle of the game, racing and rushing to do it."
Only two Republicans voted for the act: Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana and Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware.
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Just last week it looked like the bill was in trouble due to a controversial "carve out," or exception, granted to the National Rifle Association excluding it from the bill's provisions. But the bill was resuscitated in part thanks to a strong endorsement from the White House.
The administration declared Monday that the Disclose Act "takes great strides to hold corporations who participate in the Nation's elections accountable to the American people. As this is a matter of urgent importance, the administration urges prompt passage of the Disclose Act."
But Josten says the act would heavily restrict the rights of more than 100,000 associations nationwide to run ads expressing their political views.
Groups opposing the measure span the political continuum, including the ACLU, the Sierra Club, PIRG (the federation of state public interest research groups), the chamber and many others.
The chamber recently called the bill a "desperate attempt" by Democrats to grab a political advantage in the midterm elections.
The act requires companies and associations to submit a mountain of paperwork to the Federal Election Commission if they want to run an ad.
Some companies – those that receive substantial government contracts or took TARP bailouts – would be altogether banned from spending money on election advertising.
It also bans any company with more than 20 percent foreign ownership from advertising, which means international companies that employs tens of thousands of U.S. citizens, which also attract substantial foreign investment, could no longer pay for U.S. campaign-related advertising.
CEOs who are major donors would have to appear on in ads to notify the public of their involvement. The top donor to the advertising organization would be required to appear in the commercial to explain their role as well.
Finally, a TV ad would have to list the top five funders to the organization. The disclaimers alone would preclude the possibility of a 15-second advertisement.
Josten and other business leaders charge the act's onerous provisions are obviously designed to dissuade the business community from exercising its First Amendment rights.
Another reason the bill's intentions are suspect: Its principal author is Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
Van Hollen's primary job, as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is to get Democrats elected to Congress.
"I don't think there's any doubt," Josten tells Newsmax in the exclusive interview. "Mr. Van Hollen made it very clear that the Democrats are 'anxious,' to quote him, to pass this as fast as they can before the elections clearly to protect their incumbent majority, because the anti-incumbent mood across the country is probably the highest since 1994."
Adds Josten: "The first paragraph in the Constitution states declaratively that Congress shall pass no law abridging freedom of the speech," Josten says. "We just had a Congress shred that part of the Constitution. They have now created in effect a multitiered law with respect to free speech.
Josten says the measure also gives preferential treatment to labor unions.
"Organized labor, which notably was the single largest political spender in the 2008 election, some $420 million, who just in the past three weeks has announced their intention to spend $150 million minimally in this election to protect 'incumbency,' to quote them, they are carved out of the bill, no effect on them, no real disclosure, no real reporting requirements required of them," he tells Newsmax.
According to Josten, every other bipartisan campaign reform dating back to 1943 has contained a provision requiring an expedited Supreme Court review, to ensure no infringement of the First Amendment. But not this one.
"This piece of legislation in fact precludes expedited Supreme Court review interestingly enough," Josten tells Newsmax. "It forces any potential challenger to the litigation to go through a district court process to be heard. And then ultimately, maybe three or four years from today … you get your hearing before the Supreme Court. They are clearly trying to cut off any opportunity to raise the constitutional issues that this bill tampers with, and I say in fact begins to shred."
Whether the act becomes law now depends on whether Democrats can muster enough votes to bring it to the floor of the Senate. So far, GOP sources tell Newsmax, the 41 Republican votes needed to block the bill are holding firm. But Democrats are expected to mount a serious effort to encourage a defection.
The Disclose Act stems from Citizens United vs. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down McCain-Feingold campaign-finance regulations that limited the rights of companies and associations to run political advertising.
The Supreme Court ruled such restrictions are an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech.
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama publicly scolded the Supreme Court for that decision. He said the ruling would "open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections," and urged Congress "to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong."
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