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The DISCLOSE Act: At What Price Do We Sell Our Constitutional Right to Free Speech?

united states supreme courtAnytime the NRA and the ACLU are wearing the same color jersey, there is definitely a constitutional right being violated somewhere in America.  In this case the culprit is the DISCLOSE Act, which ironically is an acronym for “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.” The DISCLOSE Act does no such thing; rather it weakens democracy by violating our 1st Amendment right to free speech.

In case you missed it, last January the Supreme Court ruled that a longstanding law banning political expenditures by corporate interests was to be overturned (Citizens United). This ruling also gave the green light for corporations and the like to spend unlimited sums on the candidates of their choice.  This, of course, led to fears that campaign financing would be used to influence candidates.

The DISCLOSE Act was developed by the Obama administration specifically to temper that ruling and in the words of President Obama, “…control the flood of special interest money into America’s elections.”  DISCLOSE was to keep the “…powerful special interests and their lobbyists from drowning out the voices of the American people.” It can certainly be argued that those targeted in this legislation are the voices of the American people—regular people like you and me. We contribute to these organizations to help ensure our voices are heard because our government lacks the ears to hear the individual voices in this country as they voice their concerns one at a time.

The purpose of the bill may be commendable.  I don’t think anyone reading this would argue against campaign reform and there are some reasonable reforms outlined in this bill. However the bill goes from reasonable to unconstitutional quicker than our senators can vote themselves another pay raise. The positive outcomes of this bill in no way make up for the potential for the infringement of individual rights.

How does it affect you personally? All donors giving money in excess of $1,000 to an organization over a twelve-month period must be reported if the organization makes $10,000 or more in political expenditures.  These are very small numbers in the political world.  Now, rather than just shining a flashlight to illuminate the expenditures of big corporations, there is an enormous spotlight shining directly into your living room while you are trying to relax and watch American Idol.

I don’t know about you, but I like to make the choice of who I share my political views with. That is my right under our Constitution. If I want to donate money to an organization that supports something my employer might frown upon, that is my business. What if I am forced to make a choice between my career and my personal political agenda? What if I have a job where the appearance of political neutrality is important?  Our Constitution guarantees we have just as much right to keep our political agendas private as we do to pull the curtains around us in the election booth.

I value privacy.  If you are ever driving behind me on the interstate you won’t see any clever political bumper stickers on my car (just the words wash me etched out in the dirt by well meaning friends).  My political agenda and my personal agenda are often at odds. I might not support same-sex marriage, but that doesn’t mean I don’t play a rousing game of Speed Scrabble with my gay friends next door every Tuesday evening.  I am opposed to illegal immigration, but I go out a few times a year to make sure the children of illegal immigrants receive the clothing and vaccinations they need.  There is a reason for the old adage warning that politics and religion should never be discussed amongst friends. The DISCLOSE Act has the potential to force those discussions and put political blockades between friends, coworkers, and neighbors.

But let’s take this one step further. What if my choice is in opposition to a stance the government is taking on an issue? Do I need to worry that my name will be put on a watch list? I like to think our government is not capable of such things, but history says otherwise.

Recent history says otherwise.

When the government bailed out the auto industry, what were the political leanings of all the dealerships that were closed down? Every single one of them had been heavy contributors to the Republican Party and conservative causes. In one fell swoop, Washington came in and took their livelihoods away from them. We must be proactive to prevent any further acts or laws from being passed that could lead down similar roads. If you’d like to see how your congressman voted, go to http://thomas.loc.gov/home/rollcallvotes.html and click on the second session of the 111th House.

This bill shows the liberal double-standard that exists on Capitol Hill. They deliberately carved out the NRA from the legislation because they knew the lobbying effort of the NRA would defeat the bill. Also carved out were organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, and AARP.  And last but not least? The labor unions were carved out as well. Of course we know how beholden the liberals are to the union thugs. So basically, it’s the voice of the common man they’ve silenced.

Our voices.

We have allowed our government to slowly and insidiously silence our voices for too many years. If we are ever to have a chance of being free men and women ever again, we must learn that elections have consequences and freedoms cannot be taken for granted.  We must be ever vigilant, ever watchful. We must remember that we are always only one generation away from tyranny at all times.

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