President Obama used his weekly radio and internet address to call on Congress to reconsider the DISCLOSE Act. He did not make any new arguments for passage of the legislation and his statements echoed many of the same ones used by Congressional Democrats and their soft money allies during the original debate on the legislation.
While the President railed against special interest money in elections during the address, he focused his rhetoric on the business community and did not even mention labor unions. According the Washington Post, labor unions are the most active outside groups thus far in the 2010 election cycle. According to the article:
Labor unions have dominated spending on independent campaign ads so far this election season, despite a recent Supreme Court decision that freed spending by corporations, a Washington Post analysis shows.
The findings are an indication that corporate money is not flooding into campaigns as many predicted would happen after the landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Why the omission? Labor unions are the most dependable soft money allies of the Democratic party. Many labor unions have announced that they will spend millions of dollars this cycle to protect Congressional Democrats. One of my previous posts on the labor unions’ incumbent protection plans can be found here.
This DISCLOSE Act is a flawed piece of legislation and constitutes nothing more than an incumbent protection act designed to silence the critics of the Congressional Democrats. Under this legislation, certain corporations are prohibited from speaking, while similarly situated labor unions are left undisturbed. The byzantine reporting regimes are designed to chill political speech. The legislation’s vague terms threaten to regulate political blogs and other internet political activities, expand the scope of the coordination rules, and force for-profit and nonprofit corporations to file for a speech license with the federal government before engaging in political activities.
Congress and the Federal Election Commission should clarify the campaign finance rules for the post-Citizens United world. However, these rules must promote speech, not stifle it, and the rules must provide every political actor with clear notice concerning the new regulatory requirements. Congress must not pass the DISCLOSE Act in its current form.