Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Free Speech For Those Who Agree

The advantage of controlling the White House and both houses of Congress is, of course, the complete and unfettered power to exert the will of the majority party over the will of even the majority of the people. The Democrats are going for all they can while they can.

The latest iteration is yet another effort to control free speech, especially by those who disagree with them.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the now famous Citizens United v. FEC restored the ability of corporations to exercise their rights to political speech under the First Amendment. Congressional Democrats–who didn’t very much like the decision–have responded to it with the Disclose Act, legislation that, as written, not only would overturn the court’s ruling but would greatly expand the range and scope of the prohibitions on free speech that existed before the case was decided. But political maneuvering by the Democrats intended to circumvent the opposition of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and ensure the bill’s passage may end up killing it.

See, the Democrats came up with a ‘carve out’ deal for the NRA in exchange for that powerful lobby’s willingness to drop opposition to the DISCLOSE act. Which may wind up (as USN reports) jeopardizing it.

But we haven’t heard much in major media about the DISCLOSE act. So what is it?

In an open letter to members of Congress, the National Right to Life Committee, a group with a long history of support for the First Amendment rights of political organizations, explains that the bill is not, as its sponsors contend, merely an exercise in making sure groups make information about themselves and their donors available which, in Congress’ judgment, the public needs to know. It is actually about discouraging “as much as possible, disfavored groups (such as the NRLC) from communicating about officeholders by exposing citizens who support such efforts to harassment and intimidation, and by smothering organizations in layer on layer of record keeping and reporting requirements, all backed by the threat of civil and criminal sanctions.”

What the Disclose Act proposes to do, therefore, is constitutionally dubious but politically advantageous to the Democrats. As written, it includes numerous “carve outs,” for groups like labor unions which are part of the party’s electoral and political constituency, that exempt them from the wide-reaching dictates of this new law.

So it’s targeted. Look at how the NRA saw it before the deal to exempt them from restrictions.

In late May the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Affairs’ Chris Cox wrote to Congress identifying its concerns about the proposed legislation, including language that would, he wrote, “leave it in the hands of government officials to make a determination about the types and amounts of speech that would trigger potential criminal penalties.”

The NRA’s position created a problem for the Democratic leadership in the House. They found, probably much to their surprise, that they could not muster enough votes to pass the bill as long as the NRA was actively opposed to it. Indeed, the leadership had expected to have everything wrapped up before the Memorial Day recess but, in light of the NRA’s opposition, had to pull the bill from consideration.

Under pressure from Democratic House members who did not want to cross the NRA and in a calculated move designed to split the conservative opposition to it, the leadership simply added a section to the bill that, as written, exempts the NRA–and apparently only the NRA–from the strictures of the Disclose Act.

So who will it target? Organizations like the National right to Life.

In a June 15 letter to House members…reiterated its strong opposition to the bill, which it called “pernicious, unprincipled, and unconstitutional legislation.” Regarding the proposed carve out, “With respect to the National Right to Life Committee, this amendment is not only worthless, but adds insult to injury,” the letter said, adding that NRLC’s congressional scorecard will describe a vote for the bill as a vote for “a blatant political attack on the First Amendment rights of NRLC, our state affiliates, and our members and donors.”

This is a crucial piece of legislation. The window of timing is also critical.

The only thing Republicans have on their side is the idea that freedom, the free market and free enterprise are important to America’s future. And sometimes, the American people get so sick and tired of overbearing, wasteful and incompetent government that Republicans have an opportunity to do well in an election. This may be one of those years.

But the outcome will depend on a free and lively debate of ideas.

From here.

No comments: