Congress’ attempt to repair their attack on the First Amendment, overturned in the Citizens United decision earlier this year, has run off the rails thanks to the machination of its Democratic backers. Nancy Pelosi pulled the DISCLOSE Act from the House floor last night after the news of sleazy deals to exempt powerful organizations from the law started leaking to the media. Ironically, it was a rare partnership between the NRA and the Democrats that sealed the bill’s fate:
Following a rebellion by two important factions of rank-and-file House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has pulled a campaign-finance bill opposed by a broad coalition of special interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders had scheduled a Friday vote on the DISCLOSE Act, a bill requiring special-interest groups to disclose their top donors if they choose to run TV ads or send out mass mailings in the final months of an election. The legislation is designed to roll back the controversial Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which overturned restrictions on corporate campaign activities.
But after complaints from the conservative Blue Dogs and the Congressional Black Caucus, Pelosi was forced to pull the bill on Thursday night.
Even the opponents of this bill operate more or less in opposition to each other. The CBC took offense to the exception carved out for the NRA, which had objected to the bill’s ability to block their advertising capability. The NRA threatened to launch a full-scale fight against the bill until Pelosi and her lieutenant Chris Van Hollen inserted language that would exempt the NRA from compliance.
That deal had conservatives seeing red, but Democrats never had the chance to exploit the split on the Right. As soon as that deal became known, the CBC erupted in anger. Many of them will have to face off against the NRA in their districts, and they’re not inclined to let the NRA off the hook. Pelosi attempted to extend the exemptions to more groups, but the DISCLOSE Act will almost certainly limit the NAACP’s options in advertising, which takes one of their most powerful allies out of the game.
What does this say about leadership in the House? Pelosi should have already known how this would have played with her various factions. Cutting a deal with the NRA, who will spend millions fighting progressives in the midterms, is like deliberately winning a battle in order to lose a war from their perspective. It’s a caucus in disarray, although unfortunately, Pelosi will probably have the DISCLOSE Act back in some form soon enough. The Supreme Court will eventually have to remind Pelosi of the same exact problem it found in the BCRA and explained in detail in its Citizens United ruling.
The DISCLOSE Act is a disaster for free speech, as I wrote a month ago, especially for bloggers:
If the Democrats in Congress wanted to ensure that the FEC would not investigate political speech by bloggers, they would have written their exemptions to include bloggers instead of just traditional media outlets. The purposeful lack of exemption for bloggers looks ominous indeed — and could be used to harass smaller, unfunded bloggers out of the realm of political debate.
Even if bloggers were included in the exemption, why should the law discriminate between two similar corporations producing similar intellectual property simply on the basis of product when it comes to free speech? As Reason points out, the Supreme Court stated that such discrimination violates the First Amendment, and probably the 14th as well. What about NBC, owned (at the moment) by GE, which produces a myriad of products and services unrelated to speech. Should their media subsidiaries get that exemption, and if so, why? Surely NBC has a much more obvious incentive to bolster GE and avoid reporting on its problems, and the politics that impact them, than a blog has in backing a candidate or a bill in Congress.
Better yet, Congress should just read the First Amendment and get someone to explain the big words, emphases mine:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Make no law. Pulling the DISCLOSE Act may be the most Constitutional action Pelosi has committed in her entire term as Speaker … and mainly by accident.