Back From the Dead: Senate to Vote on ‘DISCLOSE’ (Updated)

Back in mid-2010, the U.S. House of Representatives brought forth and passed a law euphemistically called the ‘DISCLOSE’ act. It later failed in the Senate and did not become law . . . but now it is back from the dead. The Senate will be voting on it again this afternoon. It is imperative that you contact your Senators right now and ask them to vote against this dangerous, chilling, anti-liberty law.

Congress crafted ‘DISCLOSE’ in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling earlier in 2010 that the First Amendment means exactly what it says: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” By overturning certain parts of our campaign finance laws, the court restored the civil liberties of many interest groups that had previously been muzzled. But because a number of those interest groups often supported Republican candidates, the more unscrupulous congressional Democrats wanted to re-muzzle them as quickly as possible—with the support of President Barack Obama (D) and the Democratic party leadership in both houses of Congress.

Many Americans decry the sometimes-poisonous influence of money on our political process, and at first blush it sounds like a good idea to limit interest group spending in our elections. But consider, for a moment, exactly what an interest group is. If you join with two of your friends to raise money in support of a local school board candidate that you like, you are an interest group—albeit a small one. Or if you want to join with some of your neighbors to lobby your county board of supervisors for a traffic light, you are an interest group. What makes it so different when you join with a hundred, thousand, or even a million of your countrymen to support a candidate or to advocate on an issue? The reality is exactly what I said back in 2010: “Interest groups . . . are made up of people who willingly support those groups with their time and money. They aren’t some diabolical, nebulous enemy of our democracy; they are democracy.”

In addition to unconstitutionally muzzling interest groups, the ‘DISCLOSE’ act would also affect independent political commentators like myself. It will bring bloggers and other Internet media outlets under Federal Election Commission (FEC) authority for the first time, which will have a dangerous chilling effect on political speech on the Internet. If I post an endorsement of a particular candidate on Off on a Tangent, as I do in each election cycle, the FEC could rule it to be a ‘campaign contribution’ and then begin to ‘regulate’ it. They could make me change its content, or even force me to remove it entirely, all in the interest of ensuring that the election conforms with their idea of ‘fair.’ We all knew that civil liberties were on the ropes in this country, but did you ever think it would go this far? Countries like Iran, Syria, and North Korea are the ones that assert regulatory authority over their citizens’ online political statements; I would prefer not to emulate them.

The old saying is that ‘politics makes for strange bedfellows,’ and there is no stronger evidence for this than the fact that groups as diametrically opposed as the Gun Owners of America (GOA), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and AFL-CIO labor union all came out against ‘DISCLOSE’ back in 2010. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. No, this is about guarding one of our most fundamental civil liberties: the right to join together in groups, as free people, to advocate for the candidates we like and the issues we believe in.

Personally, I like the First Amendment and would like to keep it. How about you?

Updated July 17, 2012, 10:00 a.m.: The U.S. Senate considered the ‘DISCLOSE’ act around 6pm yesterday evening. Under the Senate’s current modus operandi, a sixty vote (three-fifths) super-majority was needed to invoke ‘cloture,’ which would end the floor debate and allow for a simple-majority vote on the act.

The ‘cloture’ motion failed on a straight party-line vote of 51-44, with Democrats voting to move the act forward and Republicans opposing (five Senators were not present or did not vote). As such, the ‘DISCLOSE’ act never made it to the floor for a real vote and will be tabled for the time being. Crisis averted, for now.

I will continue to follow this and other anti-liberty bills closely.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.