Idaho’s two U.S. Representatives, Democrat Walt Minnick and Republican Mike Simpson, are united in their opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday by a 219-206 vote. Depending on which side you ask, the bill is either a necessary strengthening of campaign finance laws, or an outright violation of the 1st and 4th Amendments. The bill passed on a largely party-line vote, with two Republicans voting with Democrats to pass it and 36 Democrats, including Minnick, voting against the bill.
Among the provisions of the “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections” Act (HR 5175) is a requirement that corporations to disclose the names of their top five donors to political ads. That provision is a response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in January in the Citizens United vs. FEC case. That ruling overturned much of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law.
“In response, Congress and the President immediately went to work on the DISCLOSE Act,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA. “This legislation restores transparency and accountability to federal campaigns, and ensures that Americans know when Wall Street, Big Oil, and health insurers are the ones behind political advertisements.”
Some large special interest groups, including unions, AARP and the NRA were excluded from the act. Those exclusions helped contribute to a diverse coalition of groups opposing the bill, among them the ACLU and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“When you’ve got civil libertarian groups, strong business groups and conservation groups all on the same page in opposition, it’s pretty clear that the general view is that the new rules are not across the board,” said John Foster, campaign manager for Minnick. He said Minnick wants to see more transparency in campaign finance, but wants it done in a more even-handed manner. “If you’re going to approach campaign finance regulations, you’re going to always have better law when it’s done in a fair, equitable, bi-partisan way.”
Simpson also believes the bill unfairly gives a pass to some groups. "The DISCLOSE Act is a misguided attempt to undermine the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by restricting the ability of corporations and businesses to advertise for or against political candidates,” said Simpson. “But strangely, it allows labor unions to continue to enjoy the benefits of the free speech rights granted by Citizens United.”
A statement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the DISCLOSE Act a clear violation of the Constitution. “They (the Democratic majority in the House) only achieved passage of this bill by making backroom deals and exempting some of the most powerful special interest groups in the country and specifically allowing unions to mask the movement of their political money, “ said Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue. “Citizens are appalled that with a faltering economy, massive unemployment, and an unfolding environmental disaster, Congress is focusing on protecting their own jobs first.”
According to a statement from Michael Macleod-Ball, the ACLU’s Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel, the DISCLOSE Act would damage the 1st and 4th Amendments. “The system is not strengthened by chilling free speech and invading the privacy of modest donors to controversial causes,” said Macleod-Ball. “The DISCLOSE Act would wipe away donor anonymity - most notably, that of small donors to smaller and more controversial organizations, even when those donors have nothing to do with that organization's political speech.”
President Obama congratulated the House on passing the bill. Thursday, he issued a statement saying, “The DISCLOSE Act would establish the strongest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending by special interests, including Wall Street and big oil companies, and it would restrict spending by foreign-controlled corporations.”