The DISCLOSE Act

What is this DISCLOSE Act that Obama was tweeting in support of today?  I only sort of have heard about it on NPR so I went looking and here is what I found.

From Fox News:

The House of Representatives has passed a bill to blunt the impact of a Supreme Court decision that ruled as unconstitutional curbs on outside organizations which buy political TV ads.

The bill is designed to increase disclosure requirements for third party groups as a response to the so-called “Citizens United” case.

Under the act, third party groups would have to list who their largest donors are along with other previously confidential information. The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., says that the legislation will add transparency to the electoral process. Conservatives say the act is an infringement on First Amendment rights.

Some liberal Democrats objected to a recently added carve-out in the bill for large, established advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association. The bill’s sponsors said the measure would not have been able to pass without the special provision.

The House approved the bill 219 to 206.

More than 30 Democrats voted against the legislation. Two Republicans sided with Democrats on the issue: Reps. Joseph Cao (R-LA) and Mike Castle (R-DE).

According to Huffington Post, the Act does the following:

The bill would provide tough new disclosure rules for groups that invest in the election process. In addition to forcing all 501c4 groups to stand by the ads they sponsor during elections (with the CEO of the organization literally forced to appear in the spot), the law would also require groups that met certain criteria to reveal who was funding their election activity.

The latter provision sparked intense pushback from a host of business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. House Democratic leadership had granted an exemption from that particular element of disclosure for the NRA. But after fierce objection to the carve out, the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), expanded the loophole to include other organizations as well.

For more information, including response of the bill from different parties, the NRA’s statement on the act, and the response of liberal groups to the NRA exemption, see more after the jump.

The Huffington Post also collected a smattering of responses:

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: “Today – in the face of opposition of hundreds of special interests – the House of Representatives has passed landmark legislation that will provide unprecedented disclosure and transparency in America’s elections… I applaud my colleagues for supporting this bill, which addresses the very serious threats to our democracy created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, and I and look forward to the Senate taking up the legislation in short order.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “The Democratic majority in the House jammed through a piece of legislation that clearly violates the Constitution, as well as basic principles of fairness and equity. The Supreme Court calls it ‘viewpoint discrimination,’ and every first-year law student knows that it’s illegal.”

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele: “The DISCLOSE Act is just another round of political gamesmanship designed to expand the influence of big labor and liberal special interests while discouraging other groups from engaging in political debate. It is regrettable that Democrats are more focused on blatantly stacking the electoral deck ahead of the midterms than they are about creating jobs and reducing the debt.”

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine: “The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision reversed decades of campaign finance progress. It handed incredible power to special interests and their lobbyists. The Court’s ruling would give oil companies, insurance companies, Wall Street firms, and other special interests the opportunity to influence political campaigns without requiring that corporations disclose or take responsibility for their political speech. Today, Congress took a big step toward making sure the voices of American voters are heard and restoring transparency to the political process.”

The NRA, of course, has their response:

Through the courts and in Congress, the NRA has consistently and strongly opposed any effort to restrict the rights of our four million members to speak and have their voices heard on behalf of gun owners nationwide.  The initial version of H.R. 5175 would effectively have put a gag order on the NRA during elections and threatened our members’ right to privacy and freedom of association, by forcing us to turn our donor lists over to the federal government.  We would also have been forced to list our top donors on all election-related television, radio and Internet ads and mailings—even mailings to our own members.  We refuse to let this Congress impose those unconstitutional restrictions on our Association.

The introduced version of the bill would also have prohibited political speech by all federal government contractors.  The NRA has contracts to provide critical firearm training for our Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies throughout the country.  The bill would have forced us to choose between training our men and women in uniform and exercising our right to free political speech. We refused to let this Congress force us to make that choice.

We told Congress we opposed the bill.  Consequently, congressional leaders announced they would exempt us from its draconian restrictions on political speech.  If that happens, we will not be involved in final consideration of this bill in the House.  If it doesn’t, we will strongly oppose the bill. […]

There are those who say the NRA should put the Second Amendment at risk over a First Amendment principle. That’s easy to say—unless you have a sworn duty to protect the Second Amendment above all else, as we do.

The NRA is a non-partisan, single-issue organization made up of millions of individual members dedicated to the protection of the Second Amendment.  We do not represent the interests of other organizations.  That’s their responsibility.  Our responsibility is to protect and defend the interests of our members.  And that we do without apology.

And, of course, there was a huge response from liberal groups who were angry about the NRA exemption and said so in a public letter to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi:

It is inappropriate and inequitable to create a two-tiered system of campaign finance laws and First Amendment protections, one for the most powerful and influential and another for everyone else. There is no legitimate justification for privileging the speech of one entity over another, or of reducing the burdens of compliance for the biggest organization yet retaining them for the smallest.

We urge you in the strongest possible terms to work with the sponsors to remove the
offending language and restore the integrity of the bill so we can continue to participate
in efforts to craft legislation that achieves the goal we all share to undo the damage of
Citizens United and restore the integrity of our democratic system. In its current form,
however, we have no choice but to oppose the passage of the DISCLOSE Act.

I hate Citizens United (I’m with the POTUS/legal scholar on this one) and I am all for disclosure.  I think one of things that hurts us in this country politically is that money still gets your stuff politically (the NRA, the Kennedy clan, the Bush family, Bloomberg are all GREAT examples of that).  I am all for disclosure and transparency in campaign financing.  What I am not sure of is if this act does that.  Can someone send me a link to something that explains exactly why this is (supposedly) goes against First Amendment rights?  I would like to know the other side.  I feel confused about all this…

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