Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 6:57 pm | Fair 64º


Tom Donohue: Tilting the Election Playing Field

The DISCLOSE Act is about politicians protecting their own jobs and denying businesses their right to free speech

A concerted effort by the business community helped prevent the badly named DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) Act from reaching a vote on the U.S. Senate floor in June. But the lack of support apparently wasn’t enough to deter proponents from vowing to take another stab at it when Congress reconvenes in September.

Tom Donohue
Tom Donohue

What’s the DISCLOSE Act all about? It’s about tilting the election playing field in favor of the current majority. It’s about politicians protecting their own jobs instead of tackling massive unemployment and getting the economy back on track. It’s about denying businesses their constitutional right to free speech.

The motivations of the bill’s sponsors tell you everything you need to know. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who was recently responsible for helping elect senators from his party, says the legislation “will make (businesses) think twice” before attempting to influence election outcomes, and that the bill’s “deterrent effect should not be underestimated.” Schumer’s co-sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Get the picture?

Specifically, the DISCLOSE Act would place a blanket prohibition on all election-related speech by companies with federal contracts above a specific monetary threshold ($10 million in the Senate version of the bill; $7 million in the House version). It would impose speech restrictions on domestic U.S. businesses with as little as 20 percent foreign ownership. It would impose draconian and ridiculous “disclosure” provisions on election advertisements. Guess who wouldn’t be effectively subject to such restrictions? Labor unions. Who do they generally support? The current majority.

Is this just politics as usual? Actually, it’s worse — it involves the shredding of a basic constitutional right. It’s a sad commentary on our politics that lawmakers would tear up the U.S. Constitution for political gain.

And that’s the goal here — an incumbent re-election protection measure. We need to compress the margins between the parties in the House and Senate. It’s better when opposing sides are forced to negotiate and reach a compromise. If that had happened, we would have had a better health-care bill, a better financial reform bill and a better budget.

You may now be wondering, “Why, with unemployment near 10 percent and the economy on the ropes, would Congress spend time on campaign finance legislation, which ranks about 100th on Americans’ top 10 priorities?” Good question. Ask your senators.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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