DISCLOSE ACT Passed By House Today Compromises Free Speech

June 24, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The House today passed a campaign finance bill that includes disclosure requirements which raise concerns regarding the right to privacy and speech.

The Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) bill (H.R. 5175) includes an amendment obligating many advocacy organizations that wish to speak out on candidates and, in certain situations, political issues, to release the identities of many of their donors, while allowing a few large mainstream organizations to preserve the privacy of their donors. The amendment exempts organizations that have over 500,000 members, are over ten years old, have a presence in all 50 states and whose revenue from corporations and unions is less than 15 percent. By exempting larger mainstream organizations from certain disclosure requirements, the bill inequitably suppresses only the speech of smaller, more controversial organizations and compromises the anonymity of small donors.

While the American Civil Liberties Union supports the disclosure of large contributions to candidates as long as the disclosure does not have a chilling effect on political participation, the DISCLOSE Act fails to improve the integrity of political campaigns in any substantial way while significantly harming the speech and associational rights of Americans.

The following can be attributed to Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel:

“The ACLU welcomes reforms that improve our democratic elections by improving the information available to voters. While some elements of the DISCLOSE Act move in that direction, the system is not strengthened by chilling free speech and invading the privacy of modest donors to controversial causes.

“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. It would also restrict speech rights in an arbitrary manner, favoring one type of organization over another. While this bill may have been intended to shine a light on the core funders of political advertising, it goes far beyond that goal.”

The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“Our Constitution embraces public discussion of matters that are important to our nation’s future, and it respects the right of individuals to support those conversations without being exposed to unnecessary risks of harassment or embarrassment. Only reforms that promote speech, rather than limit it, and apply evenhandedly, rather than selectively, will bring positive change to our elections.”

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