Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce

US Chamber of Commerce Commentary on DISCLOSE Act

Publication Date: June 2010

By Tom Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
June 15, 2010

Though it comes wrapped in the language of transparency, the DISCLOSE Act has a far plainer intent—to discourage people from exercising their constitutional right to free speech. Introduced by two members of Congress tasked with winning elections—Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—this legislation threatens the First Amendment rights of businesses across the country.

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

With an overwhelming—and unconstitutional—emphasis on limiting the speech of for-profit corporations and the associations that represent them, the DISCLOSE Act discriminates against America’s job creators, prohibiting them from expressing political views. The Schumer–Van Hollen bill, for example, places a blanket prohibition on all election-related speech by companies with federal contracts above a specific monetary threshold ($50,000 in the Senate; $7 million in the House). Of the thousands of businesses that regularly participate in contracts with the federal government, many would be categorically barred from making their political views known.

This prohibition on core political speech is directly inconsistent with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Congress can prohibit political speech only where it has evidence of quid pro quo corruption. There is no such evidence to support such a broad prohibition.

At the same time, the Schumer–Van Hollenbill effectively imposes no comparable restrictions on labor unions. Unions that receive federal grants, for instance, can continue to engage in political activities. This comes despite the fact that unions and their political action committees are the single largest contributors to political campaigns and claim to have spent nearly $450 million in the 2008 presidential race.

It’s a sad day when legislators like Rep. Van Hollen and Sen. Schumer so blatantly put politics before the people’s business. With unemployment near 10%, members of Congress should be more concerned about creating jobs than protecting their own. Stifling free speech is an abuse of the legislative process and is unconstitutional, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will not let this stand. Free speech does not corrupt our politics, but efforts to limit it do.

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