06.30.2010 0

Saying no to DISCLOSE

  • On: 07/05/2010 21:16:05
  • In: First Amendment
  • By Michael Swartz

    Traditionally, newspapers have enjoyed the freedom from restrictions on political speech. A good editorial board will consider all views for publication and exhibit some sort of balance among those they allot space for in the editorial pages. Being of the conservative persuasion I would expect to have my columns paired up against another representing the liberal or progressive perspective.

    In broadcast media, it’s rare to find a radio or television station which promotes a multitude of editorial viewpoints; however, that singularity is countered by the fact that many markets have a wide variety of broadcasters and consumers can select the ones they rely upon. Similarly, the internet is the wild, wild West of media because its myriad and less edited viewpoints are available with a click of a mouse.

    Yet with most of these cases, we don’t really know who is making the decision to air these viewpoints – this column found in your newspaper or on particular websites is an exception. You can read the byline and the short description of who I am in the footer to realize that I am syndicated through Liberty Features and, if you haven’t already gathered this, we generally write with a conservative-to-libertarian slant. A little bit of study can provide the disclosure you need.
    Proponents of the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175) which recently passed the House and was sent to the Senate for approval wish to shine this light on corporate donors to political campaigns. This is an admirable goal, but in practice will serve to chill the prospect of free speech in a year where, by most conventional wisdom, the majority party which is driving this bill will be losing its power in Congress.

    More proof of the aspect of political gain comes from those who are exempted. The bill was written narrowly enough at first to exclude unions from its restrictions, with other carveouts added later to satisfy particular groups – as an example, the National Rifle Association switched sides on the measure, dropping its opposition when language which would exempt the organization was added.

    It’s an unfortunate byproduct of our thirst for information that certain groups can be targeted for expressing themselves through contributions to political candidates or ballot issues. The poster children for this may be proponents of California’s Proposition 8, which banned the state’s allowance for same-sex marriage. Even small contributors to that cause have been targets for harassment by opponents bitter that the repeal passed at the ballot box and hasn’t been overturned in court.

    In fact, it was a court case – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – which inspired House Democrats, led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, to write and introduce the DISCLOSE Act just in time for the 2010 campaign. In their view, the conservative justices on the Supreme Court went too far in throwing out restrictions on political speech. And by enacting a 90-day period of effect for Federal races (120 days for Presidential campaigns) they go even further than the 60-day timeframe of McCain-Feingold – a bill which was called an incumbent protection act.

    If one is to assume a corporation is a group of citizens and money given to political campaigns is a form of speech, there’s little doubt that the Senate is simply poking its nose into a hornet’s nest and inviting a court battle if the DISCLOSE Act isn’t stopped there. But Democrats don’t seem to mind just as long as the rules are in place for this election. They can always make up something more draconian as necessary for 2012.

    Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. His e-mail address is lfs.mswartz@gmail.com.


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