Potential for abuse: H.R. 5175
The bill is HR 5175 and its purpose is to restrict political involvement by corporations and individuals engaged in negotiating government contracts. Sounds good. Even better is how Democrats named the proposed Act, “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act.” Who could possibly oppose strengthening democracy? And why would anyone not want light cast upon election spending? Sure seemed good to me.
But there was more behind the label. Prima facie this bill seemed to have potential for abuse. However, as one continues reading the plot thickens. At page 28 it stuck me that this bill was not simply a potential abuse of power it was a fairly straight-forward attempt at limiting free speech.
To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit foreign influence in Federal elections, to prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections, and to establish additional disclosure requirements with respect to spending in such elections, and for other purposes.
I downloaded the pdf file of the bill this afternoon and decided to read the 92 page document. The synopsis leads one to believe this is directed to keep foreign influences out of U.S. elections and to limit government contractors from participation in the electoral process.
We saw how actively AARP campaigned for Barack Obama and his subsequent health care take over. They used scare tactics and misinformation to convince the elderly. All-the-while pushing legislation that would drastically slash Medicare and likely ration care to the elderly. AND using their member’s money to do it. The members were never even asked if they approved of AARP’s partisan ad campaign.
On a far grander scale, we’ve witnessed similar misuses of union retirement and/or pension funds – repeatedly over decades.
Abuse of membership fees and pension funds is a common election practice. You’d expect this legislation would end that kind of abuse, afterall, the “findings” section of the bill clearly leads one to believe this is the aim of the bill. However, such an assumption would be folly.
The back-room deals
You might expect AARP, NRA, and other political organizations would be hot about this bill and would be running expensive campaigns against it. But they weren’t. That’s because the bill specifically makes exemptions for organizations more than 10 years old with half a million members or more. Why? Obviously to quell their potentially very vocal opposition. This is why most of us never heard of this Orwellian bill before Nancy Pelosi shoved it through the House June 24. I discovered this bill accidentally this afternoon at Congress.org.
Devil in the details
The “findings” section of HR 5175 informs us that many American companies are owned in whole or in part by foreign corporations. This insinuates that the bill is protecting us from foreign influences. However, when Republicans tried to add more substantial protections against foreign influences, specifically influence from hostile nations, they were shot-down by Democrats. I’m referring to last Thursday’s Republican proposal to ban lobbyists for nations that sponsor terrorism.
Clearly, if this bill had pure motives to protect against foreign influences in the American political process Democrats would have welcomed this proposal. Aside from the fact that Democrats are now embracing terrorists and that the current political knee-jerk reaction is to reject anything the other party proposes, Democrats want to keep the door open to Arab lobbyists. Furthermore, they do not want to do anything, no matter how practical, that might appear anti-Islamic.
It is also telling that Democrats opposed Republican proposals to prohibit “robo-calling” during campaigns and to require an extended judicial review before the law is enacted.
Most will agree “robo-calls” are both annoying and generally ineffective. But what many don’t know is that “robo-calls” are used in dishonest ways. They have been used to spread outright lies anonymously, as well as fraudulently impersonating another candidate with the intent of alienating voters.
Finally, why would Democrats oppose judicial review? Most likely because they doubt the bill would hold up under intense constitutional scrutiny.
How does this affect me?
Now this is the question I get from apathetic voters every time liberals attack business. In most of my articles, we’re talking about suppressed job creation, resulting wage suppression, or decreased economic activity. In this case, we are not talking about the economy. No this one strikes at something more rudimentary, freedom of speech. (While I won’t delve into it, this bill smacks of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. I recommend reading a little history. You’ll understand why HR 5175 won’t stand Constitutional muster.)
My liberal friends may counter that corporations are not people and thus not entitled to such protections. However, true to form, these people would be missing the point of what business is. Businesses are a collection of individuals bound together in the pursuit of positive economic activity. Businesses create jobs, they pay taxes, and they are the underpinnings of the nation. Furthermore corporations are legally defined as entities.
HR 5175 is a reactionary bill. It is a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case was decided last January and in it the Court found that corporations were indeed entities and as such were entitled to the rights afforded individuals in the U.S. Constitution. This includes the right of free speech.
Contrary to the partisan ravings of leftist such as Sen. John Kerry (D) MA and President Barack Obama (D), the ruling did not overturn the 1907 Tillman Act, which bars corporations from directly contributing to campaigns. It did grant corporation the right to place ads promoting candidates and issues as they wish. You certainly never saw any Democrats refusing ads placed by MoveOn.org.
So what, you may respond. When the Federal government begins restricting free speech on organizations they can also control the free speech of individuals. Not simply because corporations are made of individuals, but because people often use corporations to broadcast their messages. For example in 1972 the ACLU was prohibited from placing an ad opposing Nixon and his decision to enact forced school busing.
Murder by papercuts
I admit not being a lawyer and reading this bill was a challenge but considering my lengthy HR 3200 read this was easy. But I found Title II (p.27) of HR 5175 troubling.
“TITLE II—PROMOTING EFFECTIVE DISCLOSURE OF CAMPAIGN-RELATED ACTIVITY Subtitle A—Treatment of Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications Made by All Persons
“… that, when taken as a whole, expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, or is the functional equivalent of express advocacy because it can be interpreted by a reasonable person only as advocating the election or defeat of a candidate, taking into account whether the communication involved mentions a candidacy, a political party, or a chalenger to a candidate, or takes a position on a candidate’s character, qualifications, or fitness for office; …”
So to whom does this apply? It appears this would apply to editorials, talk radio, ads taken out by groups of individuals, and bloggers. It appears to me they are attempting to kill free speech by making it extremely cumbersome and suffocating it beneath a mountain of paperwork. My reasoning on this follows section 201b,
“(A) INITIAL REPORT. —A person (including a political committee) that makes or contracts to make independent expenditures in an aggregate amount equal to or greater than the threshold amount described in paragraph (2) shall electronically file a report describing the expenditures within 24 hours.
“(B) ADDITIONAL REPORTS. —After a person files a report under subparagraph (A), the person shall electronically file an additional report within 24 hours after each time the person makes or contracts to make independent expenditures in an aggregate amount equal to or greater than the threshold amount with respect to the same election as that to which the initial report relates.”
The section that follows describes what qualifies as speech requiring paperwork. If money is spent to publish the message it is likely to be prohibited under this law. A threshold expenditure to be $10,000 from 120 days (p. 30) and 20 days prior to the election. From 20 days to 24 hours prior to the election the expenditure is lowered to $1,000.
Any published speech, written, spoken, or televised, that is not a paid political advertisement, is done at the expense of the media provider – a corporation. Televised and talk radio personalities express their opinions at the expense of the corporations they head or work for. The expenses for each show far exceed these limited expenditures. How does a little paperwork hurt them? By increasing their costs and encumbering them with mountains of paperwork.
Think it would only affect conservatives like Rush, Hannity, and the like? Think again. While the intent was to squelch conservative opinion this law will apply to newspaper editorial columns, newspaper endorsements, and the leftwing-rush-wannabe at MSNBC, Keith Olbermann.
Think your blog is free? Think again. Wordpress, Typepad, Blogger, whoever your provider is, spends money to maintain and publish your message. How much of an expenditure does a single blog post represent? I attempted to find this information but could not. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that cost might well be demanded from us should our message come to the attention of the wrong politician. It’s possible that if your message is political you may find yourself with paperwork to fill out following every post.
And what about our privacy? If you need to protect your identity due to an employer’s restriction against blogging and you are in violation of this law, you will be forced to reveal your identity.
“(3) PUBLIC AVAILABILITY. —Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the Commission shall ensure that the information required to be disclosed under this subsection is publicly available through the Commission website not later than 24 hours after receipt in a manner that is downloadable in bulk and machine readable.” (p. 29.)
The real objective
As recently as June 18, the bill was pulled by Democrat leadership on fears of major opposition from affected businesses. The bill found new life when the Obama administration revived it. Less than a week after being withdrawn, high-powered back-room deal-making successfully pushed through to a successful House vote.
Democrats need to ram this bill through the Senate quickly if they want to stop conservative voices determined to cast light upon Democrats who have used their overwhelming majorities to ratchet up the national debt to more than $13.1 trillion dollars. Up 57% since G.W. Bush left office. Spending increases in the public sector are at their quickest pace ever while corporations are tightening their belts and shedding personnel at records rates.
What’s it all about? Protecting their power. Remember, Obama referred to the Constitution as “a charter of negative liberties. … [only saying] what the federal government can’t do to you…” That’s right Mr. President, it protects us from “tyranny of the majority.”*