Oppose H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act

This legislation is a threat to the First Amendment rights of businesses across the country.

I am writing to oppose the legislation introduced as the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act, H.R. 5175 (the "DISCLOSE Act," or "Schumer - Van Hollen"). This legislation is a threat to the First Amendment rights of businesses across the country. It represents a significant departure from past campaign-finance legislation, which sought to treat unions and corporations comparably and was framed in a genuinely bipartisan manner.

The Schumer - Van Hollen bill has been crafted to disadvantage a specific category of speaker: for-profit corporations and the associations that represent them. It places onerous restrictions on corporate free speech while ignoring unions' immense political influence.

The legislation's sponsors admit that the bill's purpose is to deter corporations from participating in the political process. Senator Schumer has said the bill will make corporations "think twice" before attempting to influence election outcomes, and that this "deterrent effect should not be underestimated."

This is a direct assault on rights protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court repeatedly has recognized that voluntary associations are vital participants in our public debate, and that government attempts to curb participation in associations to stifle their voice violate the First Amendment. The Court also has recognized that it violates the First Amendment for the government to engage in "differential treatment" of speakers based on their identity or the content of their message.

Schumer - Van Hollen flouts all of these principles through a thicket of new regulatory requirements that are intended to stifle corporate speech. Thousands of corporations regularly participate in contracts with the federal government; under Schumer - Van Hollen, many of them are categorically barred from making their political views known. That prohibition on core political speech is flatly unconstitutional and directly inconsistent with the Supreme Court's holding in Citizens United that Congress can prohibit political speech only where it has evidence of quid pro quo corruption. There is no such evidence.

The bill imposes no comparable restrictions on labor unions that receive federal grants, negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the government, or have international affiliates, even though unions and their political action committees are the single largest contributor to political campaigns and claim to have spent nearly $450 million in the 2008 presidential race.

The bill's drafters also have carefully calibrated the donor-disclosure requirements to ensure that union members can continue to speak anonymously, while corporate donors will be "outed." The bill's so-called "stand by your ad" requirements for television and radio are an additional, onerous mechanism for people in power to intimidate corporations and silence criticism.

I urge you to oppose this unconstitutional legislation.