The DISCLOSE Act: The Loopholes Are Laughable

Julie Marsh

julie marshI wish I could be surprised that our government is engaged in yet another tennis match between branches, focused on its own direct benefit and not that of the citizens it represents. But I have to admit, the House of Representatives has really outdone itself with The DISCLOSE Act.

It began with January's Supreme Court decision regarding the free speech of corporations in political campaigns and elections. The SCOTUS ruling allows corporations and unions to "dip into their treasuries to spend as much as they want to support or oppose individual candidates" -- a practice that had been banned since 1947. Republicans cheered the decision; Democrats bemoaned it.

According to the Washington Post, "the majority cast its ruling as a spirited defense of the First Amendment, concluding that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech." Hence the concept of "corporate personhood," which has been hotly debated.

The DISCLOSE Act was formulated by Democrats to "blunt the impact" of this SCOTUS ruling in the midterm elections this fall. It's already expected that Republicans will see gains in both houses of Congress, and Democrats fear that corporations with deep pockets will help guarantee Republican victories in highly contested races. So they're using their current majorities to help ensure they retain those majorities by placing restrictions on campaign spending and disclosure.

What makes the DISCLOSE Act downright laughable are the loopholes.

While it's true that the bill "requires corporations, labor unions, trade associations, and advocacy groups to publicly declare their role in TV ads or mass mailings during the closing months of a political campaign," it includes exemptions. Specifically, "organizations that have more than 1 million members, have been in existence for more than 10 years, have members in all 50 states, and raise 15 percent or less of their funds from corporations" don't have to disclose their campaign involvement.

What's funny about that is the National Rifle Association (NRA) was the only group that met the criteria -- and that wasn't a coincidence either.

It's true; Democrats created a loophole for the NRA. What is this world coming to?

Then they exempted a few more groups: The Sierra Club, the Humane Society, and the AARP. And the night before the House vote, Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) made another tiny change to allow exemption of "transfers of cash from dues-funded groups to their affiliates to pay for certain election ads."

Just to make it perfectly clear who's benefiting there: "Dues-funded groups" = unions.

Politico reports that "GOP leaders said the legislation would be declared unconstitutional by the federal courts if it is enacted," and they're likely correct. But that would take months, and by then, the midterm elections will be over. Plus, legislators on both sides of the aisle will need something else to keep themselves occupied next year.

After all, it's not as if we're electing them to do anything more than preserve their own political futures anyway, right?

Image via Aimee Giese

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