DISCLOSE Act limits freedom of speech

Americans rightly are jealous of their right to freedom of speech; it is a prerequisite of freedom and a bulwark against government tyranny in so many ways. That’s why the First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

Most important, the founders had political speech in mind when those words were written.

So that’s why we vigorously objected to the McCain-Feingold Act, passed in 2002, which severely restricted speech in a number of ways. Fortunately, in January the Supreme Court threw out a key part of McCain-Feingold.

As Human Events reported: “The historic 5-to-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for their own campaign ads and rolled back centuries-old law about corporate spending. Under the ruling, corporations and unions will still be prohibited from giving direct contributions to candidates.”

Now Congress wants to circumvent that decision by considering the DISCLOSE Act, an acronym for the Orwellian-sounding Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Elections Act.

It would ban political expenditures from corporations controlled by foreign interests and by any company, foreign or U.S., that received bailout funds. Proponents say the bailout money could be used to campaign for more bailout money.

“Picking winners and losers in campaign speech is unconstitutional,” said John Eastman, a Chapman University law school professor and constitutional scholar.

He said Congress’ laws on limiting free speech “are starting to bear a striking resemblance to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.” Those Acts severely limited criticism of the government. Thomas Jefferson led the opposition to the Acts.

Eastman said the DISCLOSE Act doesn’t put similar restrictions on unions, which are favored by Democrats, as it does on corporations, often, but not always allied, with Republicans, thus favoring one party over another.

We urge Congress to shelve the DISCLOSE Act and let political speech — with full and timely disclosure — reign. As usual, Jefferson was right.