Pro-Life Groups Step Up Opposition to Disclose Act Limiting Free Speech
by Steven Ertelt
June 16, 2010
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Top pro-life organizations are stepping up their efforts to oppose the DISCLOSE Act, a bill they say would place unfair limits on the free speech rights of pro-life groups and others when it comes to public legislative and election communications.
The House of Representatives may vote as soon as Thursday on the bill that the National Right to Life Committee says would place "sweeping new restrictions on the ability of" citizens groups to tell the public how their lawmakers voted.
In a letter yesterday to members of the House, NRLC reiterated its strong opposition to the bill, which it called "pernicious, unprincipled, and unconstitutional legislation."
The House Democratic leadership has agreed to add a narrow "carve out" that will effectively exempt the National Rifle Association from some of the key restrictions in the bill, in return for which the NRA has agreed that it "will not be involved in final consideration of the House bill."
But that has drawn objections from the pro-life group, which says, "With respect to the National Right to Life Committee, this amendment is not only worthless, but adds insult to injury" and calls the bill "a blatant political attack on the First Amendment rights of NRLC, our state affiliates, and our members and donors."
The big problem for pro-life groups is a provision that would make them identify donors publicly anytime it runs communications in certain times that ask people to contact Congress about legislation related to pro-life concerns.
"Our members and supporters have a right to support our public advocacy about important and controversial issues without having their identifying information posted on the Internet, exposing them to harassment or retribution by those who may disagree with their beliefs," NRLC says.
Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council, agrees with the analysis and his group is also opposed to the legislation.
"The legislation is designed to shut down grassroots organizations from informing voters on issues that are important to them," he said. "In an unfortunate move the NRA decided self preservation trumped principle and is accepting this affront on the First Amendment as long as they are protected."
"NRA would still be susceptible to some of the other onerous requirements of the bill, though their actions will lead to the dissolution of many good, but smaller organizations that fight for all kinds of freedom," McClusky added.
CatholicVote.org, Citizen Link, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, Students for Life of America and the Traditional Values Coalition are some of the other pro-life groups opposed to the legislation.
NRLC says the measure is "a corruption of the lawmaking process, by which incumbent lawmakers employ the threat of criminal sanctions, among other deterrents, to reduce the amount of private speech regarding the actions of the lawmakers themselves."
The pro-life group is so concerned about the measure that it will include the dispositive roll calls on it in its scorecard of key pro-life votes for the current Congress.
In a four-page letter to members of the House, NRLC Executive Director David O’Steen and Legislative Director Douglas Johnson said the bill "has been carefully crafted to maximize short-term political benefits for the dominant faction of one political party, while running roughshod over the First Amendment protections for political speech that have been clearly and forcefully articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court."
The letter discusses a number of ways in which the legislation is designed to "to discourage, as much as possible, disfavored groups (such as NRLC) from communicating about officeholders, by exposing citizens who support such efforts to harassment and intimidation, and by smothering organizations in layer on layer of record keeping and reporting requirements, all backed by the threat of civil and criminal sanctions."
In the letter, NRLC complains it is already too difficult for pro-life advocates to make their voices heard in the political arena.
As eight former members of the Federal Election Commission pointed out in a May 19 letter to the Committee on House Administration, the FEC now has differing regulations for 33 types of contributions and speech and 71 different types of speakers.
"The federal laws and regulations governing political speech already consume more than 800 pages, and the FEC has published more than 1,200 pages in the Federal Register explaining its decisions. But that is not enough for the sponsors of H.R. 5175, because the bill would add 90 pages of additional barbed-wire regulatory barriers to speech about policymakers and pending legislation," NRLC noted.
The bill would codify a vague and expansive definition of express advocacy under which any expenditure for a public communication that takes a position on a candidates character, qualification, or fitness for office might be deemed to be an independent expenditure and therefore subject to numerous burdensome and intrusive regulations.
Related web sites:
NRLC letter – https://nrlcomm.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/discloseletter
National Right to Life – https://www.nrlc.org
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