(NN&V Staff) – Dear Sens. Reid and Ensign: The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is very clear: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” We the undersigned, representing our Nevada organizations oppose and ask you to oppose the DISCLOSE ACT, HR 5175, which was recently passed by the House of Representatives.
The DISCLOSE ACT is a direct threat to political free speech of both express and issue advocacy groups to communicate with their supporters and the public about office holders, candidates and issues. The DISCLOSE ACT will have a chilling effect by discouraging certain advocacy groups from communicating about officeholders by exposing citizens who support such efforts to harassment and intimidation, and by smothering organizations in layer upon layer of record keeping and reporting requirements, all backed by the threat of civil and criminal sanctions.
This makes the DISCLOSE ACT fundamentally un-American.
Not only is the DISCLOSE ACT a threat to many groups, it is discriminatory and written to benefit one side. The DISCLOSE ACT provides preferential treatment to powerful unions which are exempt from the same reporting and suffocating disclosure requirements of smaller grass root groups.
Proponents of the DISCLOSE ACT say that their target is large corporations, but the bill makes no distinction between for profit and non-profit corporations or between large and small corporations-except where it exempts a few large centralized corporations. Many issue advocacy groups are incorporated and this bill will have a chilling effect on their advocacy and free speech.
The fact that the act would take place only 30 days from being signed into law means that the FEC will have no chance to create regulations to guide organizations on how to proceed. Where there is any uncertainty, groups will be acting at their own peril. This creates another chilling effect on political free speech.
An exemption carved out for the NRA and a few other large centralized corporations is worthless for most groups. One set of criteria in the exemption is that the organization have “1 million or more dues-paying members in the prior calendar year, that had members in each of the 50 states…”
This further discriminates against groups like all of ours. What advocacy group in Nevada could possibly have one million dues paying members in their organization, much less members in all fifty states, to exempt them from these limitations on free speech and the harassment that would come to its donors who would have their names and addresses posted on the internet? This gives larger powerful groups an unfair advantage over smaller ones “to petition the Government.”
Among the threatening and chilling requirements would be that our groups turn over our membership and donor lists to the FEC. This would destroy the anonymity of small donors and those who choose to contribute to organizations engaged in controversial issues. It would require that we list top funders in political communications and have their names and addresses posted on the internet.
As the ACLU notes, the result would be to deter organizations “from engaging in public communications that would subject its donors to disclosure… and donors sensitive to public disclosure might refrain from giving to the organization.” In both cases “organization’s ability to engage in speech will have been curtailed.” The ACLU says “in both cases, those whose names are disclosed would be subject to personal, political, or commercial impacts – something NAACP v. Alabama clearly protects against.”
It is no wonder Senator Chuck Schumer says “The deterrent effect should not be underestimated.” (The Influence Industry: Disclose Act could deter involvement in elections May 13, 2010). Our members and supporters have a right to support our public advocacy about important and controversial issues without having their identifying information posted on the Internet, exposing them to harassment or retribution by those who may disagree with their beliefs.
THE DISCLOSE ACT would also expand the “electioneering communications” period to 30 days before a primary and 120 days before a general election including asking a representative to vote a certain way or asking citizens to ask the representative to do the same. That takes two more months out of an election year in which we are subject to special requirements backed by the threat of civil and criminal penalties.
The ACLU notes that if an “issue happens to be on the legislative schedule during this new expanded period, such advocacy organizations are effectively denied the use of a major communications tool in seeking to advance their priorities.”
Earlier we quoted the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” In a May 19th letter to the Committee on House Administration, eight past members of the FEC wrote, “the FEC now has differing regulations for 33 types of contributions and speech and 71 different types of speakers.”
There are over 800 pages of federal laws and regulations governing “political” speech. There are more than 1,200 pages in the Federal Register explaining its decisions. H.R. 5175 would add 90 more pages of limitations on free speech about office holders, candidates and pending legislation. This would exponentially raise the cost of free speech and the right to petition our government.
The DISCLOSE ACT aims to silence political speech by intimidation and onerous regulation. Such efforts should be rejected swiftly. Thus, on behalf of the many Nevadans we represent, we urge you to reject this un-American and discriminatory assault on free speech by opposing the DISCLOSE ACT.
Chuck Muth, Citizen Outreach
Janine Hansen, Nevada Eagle Forum
Melissa Clement, Nevada Right to Life
Debbie Landis, Action is Brewing
Don Nelson, Nevada LIFE
Richard Ziser, Nevada Concerned Citizens
Eric Odom, Liberty First PAC
John Wagner, Independent American Party
Lynn Chapman, Nevada Families Association