Democrats launch DISCLOSE Act aimed at addressing Citizens United ruling
Today Democrats launched the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that seeks to blunt the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United that relaxed campaign advertising rules for corporations, unions, and other companies. As someone who is deeply concerned about the influence of money on politics and was pretty troubled by the Citizens United decision, this effort is news to my ears.
The broad outlines of the proposed legislation are here and a quick read over reveals that, at least at face value, the goal is mostly to shed light on and open up disclosure of who is funding what advertising. The bill also seeks to ensure that potential conflicts of interests are dealt with in a preemptive fashion and maintain a level playing field for freedom of political speech that isn’t based entirely on the depth of one’s pockets.
Opponents of the bill like Citizens United President David Bossie and The U.S. Chamber of commerce, are not surprisingly seeking to label the effort as, “an incumbent protection bill” aimed at minimizing Democratic mid-term losses. This line of attack fails to register the fact that two House Republicans, Mike Castle of Delaware and Walter Jones of North Carolina, have agreed to co-sponsor the bill.
In the more trenchant Senate, only Democrats have lined up behind the effort. But it’s worth noting what a broad cross section of Democrats are represented including: centrist middle classer Chuck Schumer, well-known issue grappler Russ Feingold, Blue Dog ring leader Evan Bayh, and — according to non-partisan website On the Issues — hard-core liberal Ron Wyden.
The other line of attack that opponents of the effort have forwarded is the idea that the bill will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. According to a Gallup poll following the Citizens United case, a majority of Americans agree with Bossie and the Chamber of Commerce, at least on the face of it,
But doubling back to the DISCLOSE Act opponents argument about “incumbent protection”, it’s interesting to see what happens to opinions about campaign contributions as free speech when it is measured along party lines,
Democrats and Republicans are almost identical in their support of the idea, but so-called Independents are much more divided with only a narrow majority agreeing with notion that campaign contributions equal free speech. And while it is true that, in the same poll, there was strong support for the idea that campaign finance rules applying to corporations and unions should be the same as those that apply to individuals,
It is, again, interesting to note that the application of those rules does not follow the sort of unfettered direction around which so much of the consternation around the Citizens United decision has revolved,
Which is to say that, generally, Americans seem to support the idea that rules should be universal across the board and that they should generally limit the degree to which corporations, unions, and individuals can effect the outcome of elections due to the resources at their disposal.
The electorate might be wary of government intrusion on free speech, which is a perfectly valid and important concern. But voters also seem to get the sense that government action isn’t the only potential eroding factor to free speech and that the influence of deep pockets on the practice of politics warrants concern and moderation.
The point that the influence of moneyed interests on politics is as corrosive to freedom of speech as government overreach — and by some lights more so — seems consistently overlooked by free speech advocates like Bossie and the Chamber of Commerce.
In short, I would offer that Democrats and their Republican allies have struck the right note in dealing with this issue, especially insofar as Democrats have mirrored the public’s desire for consistent application by making the proposed legislation as challenging to unions as they have for corporate America.
Expect the debate to be heated and for, as Erik Kain put it, liberty-alarmists to, well, sound the alarms. But, at the end of the day, I think a majority of Americans will be supportive of the bill — and rightly so.