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Dems Add DISCLOSE Waivers For TV, Radio Ads

Democrats have modified the DISCLOSE Act (HR 5175.) to allow for hardship waivers of disclosure requirements for political ads on radio and TV.

That came in a manager's amendmendment on the bill, introduced at a House Administration Committee markup
on the legislation Thursday (May 20).  The bill passed out of committee on a voice vote late Thursday.

The DISCLOSE Act, which is short for Democracy is Strengthened by casting Light On Spending In Elections, was a response to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen's United case that a ban on direct corporate and union funding of political ads was unconstitutional.

Among its efforts to tighten disclosures of the corporations and unions backing those ads, are ones that would require more explicit, and potentially longer and more extensive, disclaimers on all TV ads funded by special interests. For example, if a corporation or interest group has paid the money, we find out who really paid for it is running an ad, the CEO has to appear at the end of the ad and say he or she approved the message, just as candidates do. If it is an advocacy group, the head of the group and the top funder have to appear and take responsibility, to make sure that light is shined on shadow groups.

After Republicans complained that could potentially make the spots disclaimer-heavy at the expense of the message, the bill was changed, according to committee Chair Tom Brady (D-Pa.). Brady says that those who can make the case that the disclaimer takes up too much time of the entire communication, "they will be able to pursue and exemption to those requirements."

He called it a legitimate issue and said he had included in the manager's amendment--which is essentially a substitute version of the original bill--a provision that the Federal Election Commission "authorize regulations to provide for that exemption."

He said that, for example, if a 10-second ad required a four-second disclaimer, they could apply for the exemption "so that the ad can get the message across other than the line of people who are saying it."

What promised to be an extensive markup hearing with many amendments was still going on at press time.

The committee had already defeated (by voice vote) an amendment from the minority that it remove language saying that government contracting was "particularly susceptible to corruption."

Also defeated (5-3) was an amendment from California Republican Dan Lungren that the provision in the bill that now excludes from unlimited contributions contractors doing more than $50,000 in business with the government should also exclude unions who have collectively bargained for their members $50,000-plus in government contracts.

Lungren argued that not to apply it to unions would make the bill subject to rejection by the courts for treating similarly situated speakers differently. Democrats countered that the speakers were not similar, that a contract reached through collective bargaining was different from a corporation securing that business. Lungren said if the point was susceptibility to corruption, they were indeed similarly situated.

At press time, a third amendment was defeated that sought to treat government grantees (broadband stimulus fund recipients, for example) the same as government contractors, which would mean any company that got a broadband grant of over $50,000 would be subject to political ad spending limits.