For those of you who believe in bygone notions like free speech rights and the ability to criticize politicians when they do things like nationalize 1/5 of the U.S. economy, you better taken advantage of that while you can. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has filed for cloture on the DISCLOSE Act, S. 3628, which is intended to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United and impose burdensome new disclosure requirements. The cloture vote will probably occur next Tuesday in a move that avoids committee hearings. If Reid can get 60 votes, then the Schumer/Van Hollen Sedition Act of 2010 will proceed to a vote. At that point, he will only need 51 senators who believe Congress has the ability to circumvent and restrict the First Amendment.
Senator Schumer also introduced a new version of S. 3628 yesterday which differs slightly from the version passed in the House, H.R. 5175. For example, it drops the ban on political speech introduced by Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) by holders of oil drilling leases on the Outer Continental Shelf, which is a slight improvement over the House version. But the differential treatment between corporations and unions is still present in the new, refined, and “improved” bill, as are all of the other worst provisions of the original version.
The Center for Competitive Politics estimates that the ban on government contractors engaging in political speech will apply to over half of the fifty largest companies in the United States. The “NRA exemption” from the burdensome disclosure requirements remains in the bill as does the prohibition on speech of American companies with direct or indirect connections with foreign corporations (although unions and NGOs with foreign members are not affected). So companies owned 80% by Americans that are headquartered in the United States and whose employees are overwhelmingly American will not be able to engage in any political speech.
If this bill passes, it will become effective within thirty days, which will cause such confusion and chaos only two months before the fall congressional elections that many corporations, both profit and nonprofit, and incorporated associations, will no doubt stay out of the election and stay out of grassroots activity on other bills and issues being considered by Congress before November. But then, there is little doubt that deterring such activity that could lead to criticism of the positions and votes taken by incumbent senators and representatives is an intentional objective.
The Framers of our Bill of Rights are probably rolling over in their graves as they contemplate what may be about to happen in the United States Senate. If Daniel Webster asked “How stands the Union?’ as he did in the famous story by Stephen Vincent Benet in The Devil and Daniel Webster, it would be hard to give him the answer he would want. When members of the United States Congress believe they have the power to violate the First Amendment with impunity and censor the political speech of those who they believe should not be able to speak, then the Union no longer stands “rock-bottomed and copper sheathed, one and indivisible.”