The Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act, or, DISCLOSE Act died a quiet death on Monday as Senate Republicans blocked the act much loved by Democrats. The act was supposedly aimed at requiring organizations that are pouring money into campaign ads to disclose their top donors and the amounts they spend.
However, the truer aim of the act was to burden PACs and other political organizations while leaving unions relatively untouched. There was initially another component of the act which mandated that the head of an organization or union formally endorse the message of an electioneering ad, but in an effort to still allow the unions to gripe that elections are being “bought” by oh-so-evil corporations, the provision was dropped.
The remainder of the legislation required politically active PACs, unions and corporations to disclose the identity of donors who contribute $10,000 or more. The act was criticized for its ability to adversely affect the free speech of political organizations to donate money while leaving unions largely untouched. As the legislation did not require union dues to be disclosed, it seemed custom-tailored to unfairly curtail the political efficacy of political organizations while leaving the politically-charged unions, who largely favor Democrats, untouched.
The legislation was also criticized for its formation without the use of a committee. Not wanting to actually hear the pros and cons, Senator Harry Reid pushed the bill to the floor without a hearing, giving many senators pause.
Naturally, the NRA was against it. In a statement, the powerful gun-rights organizations stated,
“Provisions of the DISCLOSE Act that violate First Amendment rights include disclosure provisions that require organizations to turn membership and donor lists over to the government. In recent weeks, we have seen media attacks on political donors that illustrate the danger this legislation poses, and that expose its true intent: to stifle free speech.
Also, the bill would create complicated regulation of political spending and campaign activity, creating immense costs to comply with the law and cause a severe chilling effect on free speech.
While the act would have minimal impact on some institutions, such as labor unions, its biggest impact would be limiting the ability of the American people to join together to make their voices heard on issues of every sort. It would also magnify the power of the mainstream media, severely limiting the information available to the American people and threatening the integrity of our electoral process.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with 60 other groups sent a letter to Senators stating that the bill was, “designed to chill the political speech of corporations, business interests, and others, while giving labor unions special protections.”
To pile on, even the left-leaning ACLU was skeptical and denounced the legislation as they, too, saw the inherent built-in favoritism towards unions. Republican Senator Scott Brown, stated,
“The DISCLOSE Act is a cynical political ploy masquerading as reform and I continue to oppose it…Rather than treat all sides equally as a true reform bill would, it contains special carve outs for union bosses and other favored interest groups.”
What make the DISCLOSE Act so troubling, is that it does not address the influence of the media, which operates as the biggest ad for liberalism. Why can Rachel Maddow spread her message for free, but the NRA can be unduly burdened when they attempt to purchase airtime to spread their message? If we are to govern the abilities of an organization to try and make their opinions heard, then we must do similarly with the media, who make their opinions heard every day. Obviously we cannot and should not allow government to dictate how much speech is acceptable in either case, nor should we allow unnecessary hurdles in the path of such speech.
The DISCLOSE Act, ironically enough, functioned as a bill to mend fences between the Democratic Party and the unions. In recent months, in the wake of the Scott Walker victory, the unions have realized that the Democrats are no longer able to offer them the same level of political protection as they had in the past. Whereas once the unions were able to count on one hand washing the other in politics, the unions have come to question what, exactly, they’re paying for. They seem to have had a falling out with the Democratic Party.
In fact, the largest federation of unions in the country, the AFL-CIO has cut off funding of the Democratic Party and is actually holding it’s own convention, separate from the Democratic convention. While this act would have provided a boost for the unions and proved that the Democrats still had a firm hand on the wheel in Capitol Hill, it’s defeat signaled exactly the opposite.
Overall, I am tired of hearing about the big, bad corporate boogeymen who are buying elections. Sure, their money does buy influence. But in today’s modern political arena, there are numerous forces that shape politics. Unions are, by-and-large, the biggest political thugs in America, and they shape politics while still maintaining the guise of “working for the working man” like it’s 1934 and they’re fighting the Pinkertons. The media shapes politics, and while I lament the death of objective journalism, we have adapted to the media’s influence instead of trying to restrict it through governmental action. So, too, must we approach the concept of purchased messaging as speech.