Congress Shall Make No Law...
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Doe v. Reed that people who sign a petition seeking to place a ballot measure before the voters do not have a general right to anonymity under the First Amendment.  The case concerned signers to a referendum— Referendum 71, to overturn Washington’s domestic partnership law.  The Supreme Court accepted the arguments from the State and supporters of the law that the names of the petition signers shwashingtonould be released in order to, among other things, “combat[] fraud, detect[] invalid signatures, and foster[] government transparency and accountability.”  The Court remanded the case to the U.S. District Court in Tacoma to consider the plaintiffs’ specific argument that identifying the signers publicly would facilitate the harassment of these individuals by supporters of the domestic partnership law.

 

The Everett Herald reports that Referendum 71’s proponents have now filed a motion in district court on remand seeking to keep the names of the signatories from being released.  The fact that this case is still going on is interesting.  Referendum 71 lost badly at the polls.  The continued pressure for the public disclosure of petition signers—despite the fact that the referendum is deader than Francisco Franco—indicates there may be other motives besides “transparency” behind the effort to release these names.  The fact that the effort continues also suggests that the Court should have taken more seriously the argument that the release of these names by the government facilitates harassment and coercion by political and ideological operatives.

 

We will continue to update our readers on this case as it progresses through the courts.

In the next landmark case challenging campaign finance restrictions after the historic Citizens United decision, the Institute for Justice and the Center for Competitive Politics today filed a petition (.pdf) with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to review a case challenging federal laws that impose enormous burdens on grassroots groups that simply want to speak out in elections.  The case is SpeechNow.org v. FEC.

 

SpeechNow.org is a group of citizens who want to defend free speech at the ballot box by running ads that oppose candidates who do not support First Amendment rights. But under federal law, if the group decides to spend most of its funds on ads that call for the election or defeat of political candidates, it must register with the government as a political committee or “PAC” and be subjected to a host of burdensome regulations before speaking.

 

Earlier this year the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC (.pdf) that the same regulations that apply to SpeechNow.org are too burdensome for corporations to comply with.  As Justice Anthony Kennedy put it, “PACs are burdensome alternatives; they are expensive to administer and subject to extensive regulations.” The Court went on to hold that requiring a group to speak through a PAC amounts to an unconstitutional “ban on speech.”

 

Unfortunately, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held (.pdf) that the government could force SpeechNow.org, an unincorporated nonprofit association, to comply with these burdensome regulations just to speak.  IJ and CCP are asking the Supreme Court to reverse that portion of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling.

 

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was crystal clear:  “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”  Large corporations and unions can now spend as much as they want on political speech.  The First Amendment requires nothing less.  But it also requires that groups of ordinary citizens like SpeechNow.org have that same freedom.

The Center for Competitive Politics notes that very little has changed in the new version of the bill introduced by Senator Schumer.  Despite the removal of one special exemption for labor unions, the bill still "radically tilts the political playing field in favor of organized labor."

 

The bill is still an attempt to stifle political speech that Congress doesn’t like. And it’s worth noting that the infamous NRA carve-out remains. The Hill reports that a vote on the legislation could come as early as Tuesday.

 

If ever there were a time for a filibuster, this is it.

Senator Charles Schumer, Democratic Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, introduced S.3628, a new version of the DISCLOSE Act, in the United States Senate yesterday evening.  Early reports indicate that Schumer will be short-circuiting the committee process, which severely decreases the opportunity for debate and amendment on the 116-page bill.  Our friends at CCP, who have closely followed the progress of the DISCLOSE Act, say the word on the Hill is that Senator Schumer is attempting to get the new bill to the Senate floor for a vote on Friday.  Stay tuned for further analysis of this bill.

Advocates of campaign finance “reform” often claim that the laws they promote will “protect” democracy.  But, in reality,   the opposite is true:  rather than fostering the political debate that is essential to the democratic process, the increasingly bewildering thickets of campaign finance regulations set endless traps for ordinary citizens and make retaining high-priced lawyers a necessity to participate in the political process.  Even with an army of specialized lawyers, however, navigating   the campaign finance jungle is far from easy.  Just ask Vice President Biden.

 

Silenced by Red Tape

The intent behind the DISCLOSE Act is to stifle speech, but its unintended consequence has been to reveal that its supporters operate in a political universe where the concept of irony has not yet been discovered.

 

We’ve already pointed out that Senators Chuck Schumer, Russ Feingold, and Patrick Leahy have a website in which they allow people to show their support for the DISCLOSE Act while remaining anonymous. Our friends at the Center for Competitive Politics have discovered more such irony. Click here to read all about it.

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According to this report in The Hill today, it is looking less likely that Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) will support the DISCLOSE Act. But, as the wisdom of Yogi Berra teaches us, the fight to defeat this speech-squelching legislation isn’t over until it’s over.

According to this recent report from The Hill, after Senator Scott Brown’s (R-MA) decision to oppose the DISCLOSE Act, the bill’s fate now rests in the hands of the following senators: Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Ben Nelson (D-NE):

 

Democrats had hoped Brown would provide key support to move forward with the Disclose Act, which has been criticized by many Republicans and free-market groups as infringing on free speech. With Democrats in control of only 59 Senate seats, they need at least one Republican to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and move forward with the bill.capitol-building

 

With their hopes for a Brown yes vote now dashed, Democrats and watchdog groups are training their lobbying fire on GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, two Maine centrists who along with Brown have played decisive roles in a bevy of controversial summer bills.

 

The pair have been vocal supporters of past campaign-finance bills but have been tight-lipped about how they plan to vote on the Disclose Act, although Snowe denounced the Supreme Court decision after it was first issued.

 

Their offices did not respond to requests for comment from The Hill.

 

Democrats also could lose the support of two centrist Democrats, Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) — who is locked in a tight reelection contest — making Republican support even more crucial to overcoming an expected GOP filibuster.

 

Furthermore, the Daily Caller quotes Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as saying on Tuesday that she won’t vote for the DISCLOSE Act as long as long as it has exemptions for the NRA and other groups. Last month, Senator Frank Lautenburg (D-NJ) said that he would not vote for the Act if it contained the NRA carve-out.

 

As we’ve noted on various occasions, the DISCLOSE Act is a blatant attempt to stifle speech in order to protect incumbents’ reelection prospects. Whether it lives or dies is up to the above-mentioned Senators. If they still need help making up their minds, we suggest that they dust off their copies of the Constitution and read a certain amendment that talks about how they’re supposed to “make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”