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In Washington, 'Disclose' Means Stifle

A Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR5175, also
known as the Disclose Act, by a 219-206 vote. "Disclose," you see, is an
acronym for "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in

The measure's author, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also happens to
chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- so you know that
the bill has nothing to do with helping Democrats retain their seats. (Just

Two Republicans voted for the measure; 36 Democrats voted against
it. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it deserves to molder. This bill
may have passed largely unnoticed, but if the Senate passes HR5175 as is,
with its provision to activate the law in 30 days -- conveniently in time
for November's midterm elections but before the Federal Election Commission
would have a chance to draft careful rules -- voters should see this as a
blatant attempt to rig the system.

Proponents want you to think that the bill fills in gaps created by
the U.S. Supreme Court's recent controversial Citizens United ruling that
lifted restrictions on independent political advertising by labor and
corporations. They just want special interests to disclose their funding of
independent political campaigns. Disclosure, after all, is one of those
happy-face ideas in American politics.

But it's not that simple. For one thing, the measure bans
independent campaign expenditures by businesses that do more than $10
million in contracts with the federal government. As the Center for
Competitive Politics noted, the bill's provision against political
expenditures by government contractors "abandons the government's
long-standing policy of subjecting unions and corporations to similar
restrictions. (The Disclose Act) would impose no similar burden on unions
that directly negotiate for salary and benefits with the government or
receive government grants, or on nonprofit groups that receive grants or
taxpayer funding."

I understand that in liberal San Francisco, many readers bristle at
the notion that corporations have free-speech rights. But you can't call a
bill that muzzles business -- but not labor -- even-handed. Left or right,
you might want to think twice before supporting a measure that allows
Washington to choose which groups can and cannot speak out on issues of the

Also, disclosure isn't always apple pie. The ACLU opposes the bill
because, according to Michael Macleod-Ball, its chief legislative and policy
counsel, "the system is not strengthened by chilling free speech and
invading the privacy of modest donors to controversial causes."

Then there's the NRA exemption. In order to win passage of the bill
with Blue Dog Democrats, Van Hollen agreed to exempt the NRA from disclosure
requirements. Then he agreed to expand the exemption to cover other large
special interest groups, like the Sierra Club. So it's an anti-special
interest bill that exempts powerful special interests.

"We don't really think the intent of the bill is to withstand
scrutiny in the courts," said Jeff Patch of the Center for Competitive

No lie. Here's a more honest acronym for Disclose: Democrats Intend
to Stifle Contrary Leanings with Selective Enforcement.


See Other  Political Commentary                                   

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders                      

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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