National Public Radio’s Mara Liasson, despite being one of the more fair-minded NPR reporters, failed to point out in her report today on the presidential election that the supposedly “non-partisan” economist who trashed Mitt Romney’s jobs proposal is a confirmed Obama and Democratic donor. That wasn’t the worst case of bias on NPR today: its report by David Welna on the DISCLOSE Act, a so-called campaign finance reform bill, amounted to a taxpayer-subsidized advertisement for the Obama campaign.
The DISCLOSE Act is an assault on free speech and fairness, cooked up by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United that free associations of people–such as unions and corporations–are protected by the First Amendment, just as individuals are, and that certain limits on their political spending are therefore unconstitutional. President Barack Obama attacked the Court for the decision during his 2010 State of the Union speech as the judges sat mute and helpless. Schumer, among other Democrats, leapt to his feet to applaud the assault.
Just as Al Gore’s lawyers demanded a recount only in those Florida counties that lean heavily Democratic in the 200 election, Schumer’s original bill applied only to political speech by corporations–not unions. The DISCLOSE Act was coupled with a proposed Executive Order by President Obama that would have required federal contractors to reveal their political spending–an open invitation for intimidation and abuse of power.
The new, somewhat moderated DISCLOSE Act targets 501(c)4 organizations–those recognized by the IRS as “social welfare” groups that can advocate for particular policies, but not parties or politicians. The 501(c)4 category was particularly important during the civil rights struggle, as it protected donors from retaliation from the Ku Klux Klan and other racists, who tried to force the NAACP to reveal its membership lists.
There are 501(c)4 organizations on the left and the right. One of the most notorious 501(c)4 groups, for example, is American Bridge, run by David Brock of Media Matters for America, who is driving the left’s anti-Bain Capital message. On the conservative side, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS organization has been active, ambitious, and effective, spending on advocacy and advertising during key state and federal elections.
Yesterday, Republicans in the Senate prevented the DISCLOSE Act from coming up for a vote. And today’s report by Welna simply broadcast the Democrats’ arguments for the bill, as well as their attempt to use it in attacks against Romney for refusing to release his two most recent tax returns. The report failed to provide much of the historical or political context above, and made no specific mention of left-wing 501(c)4 groups.
Welna included an excerpt from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s floor speech, in which he charged that “We know the Republicans don’t like disclosure. You can find that [out] from the person they are going to nominate for President of the United States.” He ignored the most incendiary portion of Reid’s speech (reported in a separate story), in which Reid claimed “seventeen angry old white men” were buying the 2012 election.
The DISCLOSE Act takes a legitimate issue–transparency–and twists it for partisan gain. How unfortunate that NPR, a purportedly non-partisan outlet, has followed suit.