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Democrats’ First Bill Attacks Free Speech Rights Of Conservatives

GW Free Speech

The day the new Democrat majority took power in the U.S. House of Representatives they announced the introduction of H.R. 1, the so-called “For the People Act of 2019.” It will surprise no conservative observer that the bill is not “for the people” so much as it is for the Far-Left Progressive special interest groups and incumbent Democrat politicians.

Yesterday, our friends at the Institute for Free Speech released an exhaustive analysis of three speech-chilling sections of HR 1. Those provisions would regulate political speech on the Internet, violate the privacy of advocacy groups and their supporters, and compel speakers to include lengthy government-mandated messages in their communications.

"By making it harder for Americans to speak about government, a better title for the bill would be the 'For the Politicians Act,'" said Institute for Free Speech President David Keating.

The Institute's analysis finds these sections of H.R. 1 would benefit politicians and campaign finance attorneys while harming the public. The legislation's many restrictions and regulations on speakers would make it harder for Americans to promote ideas about government and to hold elected officials accountable. H.R. 1 would also subject speakers to increased costs from legal and administrative compliance, liability risk, and would harm donor and associational privacy for civic groups that speak about policy issues and politicians.

"H.R. 1 appears to be a slapdash effort to stitch together every unworkable and unconstitutional idea from the past decade about how to increase regulation of Americans' free speech rights," said Institute for Free Speech Senior Fellow Eric Wang. "While the bill may be dead on arrival, it is nonetheless a deeply troubling statement of Congress's priorities and attitudes towards the First Amendment."

Among other outcomes, HR 1's speech regulations would:

Unconstitutionally regulate speech that mentions a federal candidate or elected official at any time under a severely vague, subjective, and broad standard that asks whether the speech "promotes," "attacks," "supports," or "opposes" ("PASO") the candidate or official.

Compel groups to file so-called "campaign-related disbursement" reports with the Federal Election Commission declaring that their ads are either "in support of or in opposition" to the elected official mentioned, even if their ads do neither.

Force groups to publicly identify certain donors on these reports for issue ads and on the face of the ads themselves. In many cases, these donors would not have given a cent to support the ads.

Force organizations that make grants to file their own reports and publicly identify their own donors if an organization is deemed to have "reason to know" that a donee entity has made or will make "campaign-related disbursements."

Disproportionately burden the political speech rights of corporations, thereby ending the long-standing parity in the campaign finance law between corporations and unions.

Expand the universe of regulated online political speech beyond paid advertising to include, apparently, communications on groups' or individuals' own websites and e-mail messages.

Impose a new and constitutionally dubious public reporting requirement on sponsors of online issue ads by expanding the "public file" requirement for broadcast, cable, and satellite media ads to many online platforms.

Impose inflexible disclaimer requirements on online ads that may make many forms of small, popular, and cost-effective ads off-limits for political advertisers.

HR 1 was introduced by Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) as the first bill in the House of Representatives for the 116th Congress. The 570-page bill combines a number of pre-existing proposals on campaign finance, political speech, voting rights, and ethics laws. The provisions included in this analysis are identified in the bill under the misleading titles, "DISCLOSE Act," "Honest Ads Act," and "Stand by Every Ad Act." H.R. 1 is co-sponsored by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and more than 200 House Democrats.

While crushing the free speech rights of outsider candidates and interest groups is the most obvious problem with the bill Democrats have cast as an “anti-corruption” measure there is another long-time Democrat agenda item hidden in the bill: public financing of congressional campaigns.

As Akela Lacy explained in a column for The Intercept, the program, based on Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes’s “Government By the People Act of 2017,” would offer subsidies for individuals who want to make small contributions to political candidates. And eligible candidates would qualify for matching contributions that vary based on a candidate’s agreement to restrictions on how they finance their campaigns.

Combined with the broad surge of small-dollar contributions — Democrats alone raised more than $1 billion that way in 2018 — the public financing system would dramatically reshape the political economy of federal politics wrote Lacy.

Under the HR 1 plan, individuals who contribute to House campaigns would be eligible for a one-time federal tax credit on up to $50 of political giving. Those who make contributions of $300 or more to any candidate or committee, including PACs, would not be eligible for the credit. People in the states selected to pilot the voucher program would have the option to request a “My Voice Voucher” and allocate funds in increments of $5 to multiple candidates of their choice. Taking part in the voucher program also precludes eligibility for the tax credit.

Participating candidates would be entitled to a 6 to 1 match of the amount they receive in small-dollar contributions, explained Lacy. If candidates agree to further financial restrictions outlined in the bill — that would cap them at accepting a maximum contribution of $1,000 from any individual, and require at least $50,000 in total individual contributions — the match they’re entitled to increases by 50 percent.

House Democrats will also pursue related legislation, including but not limited to HR 1, that would enforce higher standards of disclosure and transparency with an aim to reveal sources of dark money in campaign funding, push for enhanced disclosure for online ads, limit coordination between Super PACs and campaigns where current federal law has failed, and revamp the Federal Election Commission’s authority for oversight and enforcement action.

While it won’t be part of the first bill they plan to push in January, says Lacy, House Democrats are also eyeing a resolution to recommend overturning Citizens United. Conservative policy analysts say the 2010 ruling upholds the crucial democratic pillar of free speech by allowing corporations and unions to make independent political expenditures without restrictions.

The toll-free Capitol Switchboard is (1-866-220-0044) we urge CHQ readers and friends to call your Representative and Senators TODAY to tell them to vote NO on HR 1.

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