When Senator Chuck Schumer staged an elaborate press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court to unveil his Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act (“DISCLOSE Act”) he noted that:
“Anyone who wants to hide, will not do an ad after this legislation passes. And I think there are a lot of people who like to hide ... so I think there’ll be many fewer of them.”
His words revealed the true motivation of this legislation – it is not transparency but rather silencing speech in this critical election year. The Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC
restored the First Amendment protection to political speech. Small businesses, corporations, unions, and membership based organizations may now have a voice in the public discourse. The Democratic leadership that is tasked with re-electing incumbent politicians and trying to minimize Democratic losses this November were understandably fearful of what the public may say now that their voices have been restored. One issue the Democrats would rather not let the American people be reminded of is the national 9.5% unemployment rate.
Their solution was the DISCLOSE Act, a piece of legislation that creates a burdensome new regulatory scheme as well as requires that political ads feature disclaimers which may be as long as 14 seconds in length. This will increase the costs to small businesses and membership based organizations that seek to have a voice – many won’t be able to afford the additional compliance costs and will have their voices silenced.
In the four months since Senator Schumer introduced the DISCLOSE Act, we’ve seen it is just one part of a systemic campaign to chill political speech.
Target, a national corporation headquartered in Minnesota chose to make a contribution to MN Forward, an independent expenditure organization whose mission is “to ensure that private-sector job creation and economic growth are at the top of the agenda during the 2010 campaign.” MN Forward has been supportive of Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.
The contribution was made public, and liberal groups have sought to attack the corporation for exercising its rights. Moveon.org has gone so far as to demand a boycott of Target stores. They are attacking Target based on the values and positions of Tom Emmer. It’s important to note that Target did not in fact make a donation to Emmer, but rather to a pro-business political committee.
The facts reveal this contribution was motivated by economic interests. Such speech is exactly what Senator Schumer seeks to discourage with the DISCLOSE Act. His intent to chill speech was again made very clear in a recent email:
"When you buy toothpaste now, the money you spend can be used directly for television ads attacking people that you believe in without you even knowing."
“Well if you've ever shopped at Target, the money you spent on toothpaste might be part of the $150,000 Target donated to run TV ads for an anti-gay, anti-minimum wage candidate in Minnesota just recently.”
“Target apologized for its donation (without taking its money back) once a lot of people got really mad, but next time Target — or any other corporation — is going to be a lot smarter about it.”
Corporate expenditures were legal in at least 26 states prior to the Citizens United
decision. While in their respective state legislatures both Barack Obama and Congressman Chris Van Hollen were the beneficiaries of corporate donations. If such contributions did not corrupt Obama and Van Hollen, why now are they so problematic? The DISCLOSE Act is merely a solution in search of a problem.
The campaign against the Freedom of Speech is even more glaring in New York City. The Public Advocate for the City of New York, Bill de Blasio, is using his government position and government owned and operated website to lead a campaign against corporations that dare to assert their First Amendment rights. His website is a clear attempt to dissuade corporations from exercising their First Amendment rights.
For those unfamiliar with the position of “Public Advocate”, de Blasio’s website describes the elected office as “the job of the Public Advocate is, most fundamentally, that of a watchdog, ensuring that all New Yorkers receive the City services they deserve and have a voice in shaping the policies of their government.” I’m not sure if that sounds more like a community organizer or a lobbyist, but regardless, it does not sound like an appropriate forum to wage a political campaign against the First Amendment.
It’s time that incumbent Democrat politicians stop focusing on misguided efforts to minimize Democratic losses this November and start focusing on real issues. With public opinion of Congress currently hovering around 20 percent, the Democrats will lose seats this November based on their record and their policies – their attempts to silence political speech will not prevent that.