The DISCLOSE Act is the Democrats big legislative “fix” to pushback against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that eliminated a number of campaign finance restrictions on first amendment grounds. It just passed the House this afternoon — even with 36 Democrats voting against it.
House Republican Leader John Boehner’s already declaring that the legislation will “Shred Our Constitution for Raw, Ugly, Partisan Gain.” Normally, I’d automatically dissmiss such a press release as hyperbole, but this time I’m not so sure. For one thing, the DISCLOSE Act does this:
A Democratic amendment tucked into campaign finance legislation Wednesday night also drew fire from Republicans and their allies, who contend it gives special treatment to Democrat-allied labor unions. The language in question would exempt from disclosure requirements transfers of cash from dues-funded groups to their affiliates to pay for certain election ads. It was inserted into the bill by Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Administration Committee and a big union backer.
So unions now get nearly unrestricted, undisclosed political spending. Further, the restrictions in the DISCLOSE Act only cut one way — against business. If you took TARP funds as a business, express political advocacy is now verboten. So GM has very limited first amendment rights, but even though arguably the primary beneficiary of the auto bailout was the United Auto Workers union which got government gauranteed billions directly as a result of the TARP funding — UAW can spend almost whatever it pleases, and it has a history of spending millions on Democratic campaigns.
Further, under the DISCLOSE Act if a company has more than $7 million in government contracts, it has no right to political speech. But public sector unions can spend millions of recycled tax dollars campaigning for Democrats, no problem. All this will likely do is make business spend more money on lobbyists rather than campaigns. Of course, campaign spending is much more transparent than lobbying, but when it comes to the DISCLOSE act, clean elections and free speech seem to be secondary considerations to getting Democrats elected.