House Democrats now claim to be "within striking distance" of the votes they need to sharply restrict the rights of organizations to participate in election campaigns -- despite a recent Supreme Court finding that such legislative restrictions are unconstitutional.
Heritage Foundation legal scholar Hans A. Von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, tells Newsmax that the timing of the legislation indicates its true purpose is muzzling groups that otherwise might freely voice their opposition to Democratic policies in campaign ads.
The Disclose Act, also known as H.R. 5175, is written so that it takes effect 30 days after passage -- just in time to impact the November midterms.
"That's just crazy," Von Spakovsky tells Newsmax, "because whenever a new statute gets passed on campaign finance reform, the FEC has the job of creating the regulations needed to implement the statute. There is just no way the FEC, which I served on for two years, could in two months come up with regulations to enforce this law."
Instead, he says, Democrats "just seem to be intent on creating a legal morass," the uncertainty of which would discourage organizations from trying to voice their views at all.
Former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley A. Smith, chairman of the Alexandria, Va.-based Center for Competitive Politics, recently told Newsmax the Act is "one of the most partisan pieces of legislation to come down the pike."
The bill's major backer is Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who also heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that works to elect Democrats to Congress. Late Monday afternoon, Van Hollen declared that House Democrats are "in striking distance of getting the votes" needed to pass H.R. 5175.
"I remain optimistic," said Van Hollen told the Washington Post. "I think a good majority understands that it's important to give voters information on who is paying for the ads that they're watching."
That's a marked change from Friday, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi yanked the bill from the House legislative after blue dog Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus revolted. Moderate Democrats feared the wrath of the many business groups opposed to the measure, while civil rights organizations worried the bill's restrictions could affect their donors as well.
One reason for the bill's revived prospects: The White House on Monday offered a strong endorsement, saying the measure "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."
Democrats say the Disclose Act will shed light on who the sponsors of campaign advertising really are. Conservatives, meanwhile, consider it a partisan end-run around the Supreme Court ruling designed to give Democrats an advantage in the mid-terms.
The 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 abridgement of the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech.
In his State of the Union address, President 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."
When the NRA threatened to mobilize its legislative juggernaut to oppose the Disclose Act, Democrats offered the group a special "carve out," or exception. Any longstanding organization with a million or more members that also met other criteria, would be exempted.
That exception provoked howls of outrage from groups on the left, as well as from smaller groups that complained the NRA was acting to protect its own narrow interests. Van Hollen responded by lowering the threshold for the exemption to 500,000 members, thereby broadening the exclusion.
The NRA said Monday it does not support the law, but also won't marshal its considerable political might against it as long as it is exempted.
In a recent interview, Smith told Newsmax the bill would shackle the political activities of corporations and associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, while leaving unions largely free to influence political outcomes.
He said the bill contains numerous “absurd” regulations, such as requiring as many as six disclaimers in a 30-second ad regarding who paid for it.
The Disclose Act also requires leading donors to actually appear in the ads to state their involvement -- whether the money they donated went to produce that particular ad or not. Nonprofits and companies would have to disclose the names of their top five donors, as well as face other restrictions.
Such provisions, opponents of the bill say, are less about transparency than intimidating the corporate and association donors to stop promoting conservative candidates.
Democratic leaders have said they could put the Act back on the House legislative agenda as soon as Tuesday. But Democrats are sending conflicting signals: House members have received talking points to help sell their constituents on the bill over the upcoming July 4th recess. That would suggest the bill may not be reintroduced until after Congress returns on July 12.
Other indications that the Disclose Act battle continues unabated:
- The U.S. Chamber rolled out an ad campaign on Monday that warns the Act would "limit the speech of businesses and the associations that represent them in order to prevent them from expressing their political views."
- Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., released a statement saying Democrats were making "backroom" deals to try to salvage a defective bill. "They're auctioning off the First Amendment with zero regard to the dire consequences of their actions," he stated.
- House members received a letter signed by over 232 organizations opposing the Disclose Act, saying it imposes "onerous restrictions on corporate free speech while ignoring unions' immense political influence."
- The NRA's Chris W. Cox issued a news release Monday stating: "The NRA has never supported -- nor would we support -- any version of this bill. Those who suggest otherwise are wrong. The restrictions in this bill should not apply to anyone or to any organization."
Von Spakovsky predicts Democrats who try to justify the Disclose Act to constituents over the July recess are in for a big surprise.
He tells Newsmax: "The Democrats are making a mistake because actually, when you explain to folks what's really in this act, and you explain to folks what the Supreme Court actually did, as opposed to what the media portrays, a majority of American believe in the First Amendment and they come out saying, 'This is a bad law because it infringes on people's right to speak politically.'"
Leading Republicans tell Newsmax they believe that even if the bill passes the House, they have the votes to block it in the Senate.
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