US Constitution

Update as of July 28:The Democratic leadership wanted this passed before fall elections but fell short with just 57 of the 60 votes needed to move forward with a vote. The usual Republican suspects Democrats turn to for votes (Senators Collins, Snowe and Graham) opposed the Act. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusettes, who recently provided the 60th vote for so-called financial reform, also opposed the Act. This time, he stuck with Republicans. There is a good article in the Washington Post by Dan Eggen if you want to read more about it:

Background from early July: As we approach the 4th of July, Democratic leaders in Congress, in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, lead the charge to pass the “Disclose” Act on June 24, 2010. The Act, introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), is designed to blunt the First Amendment ruling in favor of speech rights for corporations and other groups, including labor unions. The Citizens United decision, relying on the First Amendment, ruled that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited. The court reasoned that political speech is indispensable to a democracy, though it upheld the ban on direct contributions to candidates from corporations and unions. We note here that political speech is also fundamental to free enterprise and individual liberty.

Our friends at CATO are on top of this:

Background: Citizens United made a movie about Hillary Clinton (Hillary: The Movie). They were prevented from showing the movie under the “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act” that regulates political speech. They fought for an injunction against the law, took their case to the Supreme Court and won. Let’s see if Congress succeeds in once again tinkering with the First Amendment.

If passed by the Senate, the Act will require the disclosure of the names of major donors for political ads, require corporate and union executives to appear in political ads that their entities pay for and like a candidate, state that he or she “approves this message.” All of these are designed to discourage political speech. It also bans government contractors from contributing to campaigns, and regulates the recipients of TARP money as well as contributions from foreign nationals and countries. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev) wants it passed before the fall elections.

Aside from the obvious constitutional issues, which have been raised by (mostly Republican) critics, liberal Democrats have also criticized the bill because the Act contains  hard to defend “carve outs” that, when applied, exempt certain powerful special interest groups such as the Humane Society, AARP and the Sierra Club–but also the NRA. The exemptions were negotiated by Democrats so they could get the Act passed and on the president’s desk. This is sausage making to be sure. Sadly, it will add to the already absurd quilt-work of bad election/campaign finance laws that thwart the First Amendment right to political speech.