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DISCLOSE Act Draws Fire

The Center for Competitive Politics took aim at the DISCLOSE Act Wednesday in a letter to Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Rules Committee.

"[T]he [bill] contains several provisions that would ban political speech by a significant number of business
corporations," said CCP President Sean Parnell. The bill's backers say it is mostly about disclosure--that if corporations are going to be allowed to campaign against candidates, just who is doing the campaigning should be clear.

The committee, which determines how a bill is voted on, is preparing Monday afternoon to take up the bill. Its backers, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), say the bill would repair some of what they see as the damage done to the campaign finance system by the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case. That was the decision that lifted the ban on using corporate and union treasury funds to directly fund ads promoting or opposing candidates (electioneering communications) in the run-up to elections.

Among many other things, the DISCLOSE Act (the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act) would require a number of financial disclosures of donor contributions, ban direct funding by corporations with government contracts worth more than $10 million; and expand the "electioneering communications" period from 60 to 120 days before an election.

Parnell says that would disqualify half of the top 50 companies from supporting or opposing candidates. The bill's backers argue that the point is to prevent such companies from leveraging big bucks to influence the outcome of elections.

"Despite the sloganeering by supporters of this bill to gut the First Amendment, the DISCLOSE Act would silence businesses with competitive government contracts, U.S. companies that attract minimal foreign investment and advocacy nonprofits seeking to speak to Americans about issues," Parnell said in the letter.

The ACLU has come out against the bill. Among its concerns are that the disclosure obligations on the "functional equivalent" of electioneering communications could discourage issue advocacy and that the disclosure obligations for TV and radio ads--funders would have to appear on-air to take responsibility for the ad, as candidates do now. It also has issues with the restrictions on contractors and foreign ownership.

The bill, which has the backing of the administration, could get a House vote as early as June 24.