Thursday June 17, 2010

Congress to Vote on DISCLOSE Act – Condemned by Pro-Life, Pro-Family Groups

By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 17, 2010 ( – The Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress is preparing to vote on a new campaign finance bill, the so-called “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act.” Pro-life and pro-family groups are feverishly campaigning against the act, saying it will have a chilling effect on political free speech, especially with mid-term elections just around the corner.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to mark up the DISCLOSE Act (HR 5175), sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on Thursday, making it ready for a full floor vote as early as Friday.

A few weeks ago the bill seemed dead, but Democrats brought it back after striking a deal Monday that would exempt the powerful National Rifle Association from the requirements of the bill in exchange for their neutrality.

The bill forces groups, including most 501(c)4, 501(c)5, 501(c)6, and 527 groups, to comply with what pro-life groups call “onerous” reporting requirements. These would disclose the donors and members of their organizations, and frustrate the ability of grassroots entities to communicate effectively with the public about public policy.

“There is no principle embodied in this legislation other than crude political advantage. They are trying to temporarily disable their critics,” Douglas Johnson, Legislative Director for the National Right to Life Committee, told (LSN).

“By design it’s a crippling cluster-bomb of legal traps for groups that dare to speak about those in federal offices. What triggers these regulations? When you mention the name of a congressman; when you express an opinion about a congressman.”

The NRA deal – since modified to cover organizations such as the Sierra Club – exempts 501(c)4 groups from having to report their donors if they have at least 500,000 members, over 10 years of existence, chapters in all 50 states, and receive no more than 15% of total contributions from corporations. The NRA has over 4 million members; the environmentalist Sierra Club has 750,000 members.

The deal leaves smaller and more numerous grassroots organizations, in particular the pro-life, pro-family movement and the decentralized conservative “Tea Party” movement, out in the cold.

In a letter to CWA activists Shari Rendall, Director of Legislation and Public Policy for Concerned Women for America, warned that the regulations would “all but eliminate grassroots advocacy.”

Rendall told in an email that the bill is the worst thing since McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, which the Supreme Court effectively gutted in January’s Citizens United decision.

“It is simply designed to undermine the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling that said Congress may not prohibit funding of political speech by corporations, labor unions, and nonprofit groups – groups like CWA,” she said. “The intent is to limit speech from any group that funds ads advocating an election or defeat of a candidate.”

Under the bill, all groups subject to the law’s requirements would have to list all donors of $600 or more with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Groups must also post a hyperlink on their website to the FEC, where a list of the names of their donors can be accessed.

Furthermore, every time an organization runs a campaign ad, its CEO must appear in the ad and state not once, but twice, his name and the organization’s name. The top 5 funders of the organization behind the ad – even if they had nothing to do with the ad’s funding – must also have their names listed in the ad.

In addition, the most “significant” donor to the organization must list his name, rank, and organization 3 times in the ad. Critics of the bill say that the disclaimers effectively consume valuable air time bought by these groups that would otherwise be used to inform voters about a candidate’s record.

Johnson agreed that one of the intents of the bill was to dry up many of the funding sources of grassroots groups by intimidating donors away from the political process.

“It’s to deter citizens from supporting organizations that speak out on controversial issues,” he said.

“Look what happened out in California,” added Johnson, pointing to what happened when the names of petition signers and contributors to Prop. 8, the traditional marriage amendment, became publicly searchable.

“There were business members subject to reprisal campaigns, people’s jobs were threatened, some people lost their jobs – all sorts of abuse and for what purpose? To deter people in the future from donating to such a cause,” he said.

Other affected entities will likely include vocal liberal and conservative groups that communicate through the internet. While traditional media organizations like newspapers and television stations are exempt from the bill, bloggers, the vanguard of the “new media,” are not.

The bill also expands the definition of electioneering communications, stating that it begins 120 days before a general election, instead of the current 60 days.

Once passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the act would take effect in 30 days, even if the Federal Elections Commission has not yet crafted new guidelines – just in time for the mid-term elections in November.

H.R. 5175, and its Senate version (S 3295), sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), both contain a “severability clause” that will keep parts of the bill alive, if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down any section of the bill.

To find contact information for the U.S. House of Representatives visit here:

To find contact information for the U.S. Senate visit here: