Last month in his major speech on threats to the First Amendment at AEI, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell warned, “[I]f disclosure is forced upon some but not all, it’s not an act of good government, it’s a political weapon. And that’s precisely what those who are pushing [legislation like the DISCLOSE Act] have in mind. This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to exposes its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies. . . . Those pushing the DISCLOSE Act have a simple view: if the Supreme Court is no longer willing to limit the speech of those who oppose their agenda, they’ll find other ways to do it.”
And it’s become clear that those other ways go beyond bad legislation like the DISCLOSE Act. The New York Times reports today that Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against conservative groups aimed at shutting down their political speech or forcing them to disclose private donors. The NYT writes, “The complaint by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee against Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, Americans for Prosperity and the 60 Plus Association begins a new phase in the Democrats’ struggle to keep pace with Republicans since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. That decision cleared the way for unlimited campaign donations to a new breed of ‘super PACs’ from corporations, unions and wealthy contributors. The complaint targets Republican-leaning ‘social welfare’ organizations that have received or are requesting tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which allows funding sources to be kept private. . . . Contending that the tax-exempt groups’ ‘major purpose is federal campaign activity,’ the complaint says that the F.E.C. should regulate them as political committees and that their donors must be disclosed.”
Recently the Democrat Attorney General of New York announced he was opening an investigation into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s political activities and its donors. And prior to that the Obama campaign’s chief counsel demanded the FEC force Crossroads GPS to disclose its donors. Of course none of these complaints have asked for scrutiny of Democrat-allied organizations doing similar things.
Leader McConnell explained the problem here in an op-ed for USA Today last week: “[W]hat’s proposed here is entirely different. [Democrats are calling for] for government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grassroots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents will admit. The Supreme Court addressed this issue in 1958 in NAACP v. Alabama, ruling that forced disclosure of the NAACP’s member lists by Alabama would discourage people from freely associating with a cause or group. I support the First Amendment rights of those on the political left and right. My concern is that selective disclosure would be used to harass people — think President Nixon and his ‘enemies list’ — who have participated in the political process or scare others from doing so. I cannot support limiting the right of Americans to speak up.”