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House passes Disclose Act to counter recent Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance

by Susannah Kopecky, published

On May 6, a bill was proposed in the House of Representatives, appearing to challenge the status quo of campaign finance. Many, including The Hill are calling the campaign finance bill (known as the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act, or by the acronym “DISCLOSE” for short) “the Democratic response to Citizens United” (a landmark Supreme Court case which appeared to side with Republican arguments for greater campaign finance freedom for businesses).

Surprisingly, this bill is moving forward with bipartisan support, although passage is up in the air at this point.  The bill is not just campaign finance, however.  What many fail to recognize is that this bill, if passed, would grant greater powers to government officials to probe into the pocketbooks of both donating businesses and unions.

If this bill is approved by the Senate, what little privacy corporate donors enjoy now, may face further opposition. If passed, this supposed campaign finance reform bill (a term which has truly become a catch-all) will further erode privacies enjoyed by campaign donors by ignoring the right to voting privacy. 

If anything, the DISCLOSE Act, like Card Check, would appear to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a way to control economic freedom of expression through the implicit threat of intimidation. Say hello to yet another governmental power grab cloaked in positive terms.

 On Thursday, April 29, legislation opposing the former Supreme Court ruling was unveiled by a group of Democratic senators, including Russ Feingold, Evan Bayh and Chuck Schumer. It should be noted that Schumer also gives supporting credit to the Obama administration.

In a press release detailing information on the “legislation to limit fallout from Supreme Court ruling that allows unlimited special-interest spending on elections,” New York Senator Chuck Schumer pointed to the goal of the Disclose Act as requiring “all organizations making political expenditures to make public their donors and appear on camera to stand by their ads.”

But, one wonders if the Founders would support such a blatant show of disregard for the sanctity of privacy, the American right to freedom of speech? In a sense, this also goes against the long-time idea of the secret ballot, as this bill would force donors to surrender their identities, and thus surrender their “ballots” by showing who they would vote for.

Senator Bayh, in a statement shared on Schumer’s site, stated “This legislation is needed to prevent an already bad campaign finance system from getting even worse.” But, how does forcing donors to reveal themselves publicly help to revolutionize and improve the structure of campaign finance? This bill is supposed to improve transparency, and yet, the only thing it will make more transparent is the political beliefs of leading businesspeople and community leaders.

Also cited was Senator Wyden, who added his thoughts that “If the Supreme Court wants to treat corporations as individuals then we will hold those entities to the same standards of accountability that we do individuals, which means requiring that CEO's, labor leaders and even political consultants stand by their ads.”

Does Wyden suggest that entirely irresponsible and inaccurate political ads would be tolerated by those entities granting television or radio advertising space? These statements seem to suggest both a lack of trust in the judgment of entities selling air space, and judgment of those creating political ads.

One must consider that of the many campaign ads run, relatively few are the inaccurate and defamatory political ads we often hear about.  There are many more perfectly acceptable and appropriate ads running. And yet again, we come back to the argument that industry can’t do it right, and government would.

But, how does a career politician ‘know better’ about how to make businesspeople and politicos back up their ads? And why aren’t we hearing greater opposition from the unions? Something is rotten in Denmark, and all voters deserve to know the fully story.

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