Undisclosed Interests

Legislators fight corruption by silencing their critics.

Jacob Sullum

In a 1996 law review article, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan warned that campaign finance laws “easily can serve as incumbent-protection devices, insulating current officeholders from challenge and criticism.” The DISCLOSE Act, a speech-squelching bill supported by the man who nominated Kagan, is a good example.

President Obama and congressional Democrats say the DISCLOSE Act, which is expected to come up for a vote soon, is aimed at ensuring transparency and preventing corruption in the wake of Citizens United v. FEC, the January decision in which the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on political speech by corporations and unions. But the bill’s onerous, lopsided requirements suggest its supporters are more interested in silencing their critics.

…the DISCLOSE Act prohibits corporations from engaging in pre-election political speech if 20 percent or more of their equity is owned by foreign nationals. That provision would bar U.S.-based companies with foreign investors, such as Verizon and ConocoPhillips, from publicly addressing issues that affect their American shareholders and employees. Although the official aim is preventing foreign interference with U.S. elections, the ban would not apply to international unions such as the SEIU and the UFCW or to international activist groups such as Greenpeace and Human Rights First.

…The DISCLOSE Act’s reporting requirements are likewise redundant, burdensome, and intimidating. Among other things, an organization’s donors are presumed to support its political ads unless they specify otherwise, so their names must be reported to the government, raising the possibility of bullying or retaliation by politicians.

The entire article is at Reason.com

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