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Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Democrats apparently have found a new friend in their effort to push the unconstitutional DISCLOSE Act through Congress – the NRA!

According to a June 14 report, pro-gun Democrats have not climbed onboard the legislation. But a reported deal would provide a carve-out for the NRA. Specifically, according to

The proposal would exempt 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. Democrats say the new language would apply to only the NRA, since no other organization would qualify under these specific provisions. The NRA, with 4 million members, will not actively oppose the DISCLOSE Act, according to Democratic sources. The exemption for a huge group like the NRA is sure to outrage smaller special-interest groups.

Indeed, this should outrage anyone who values the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. If the NRA is cutting this deal, it should be ashamed, and its members should rise up in protest.

Keep in mind what the DISCLOSE Act would mean for small businesses and their voices in the policy/political process. SBE Council President & CEO Karen Kerrigan explained in a “Key Vote” letter to the House on May 28:

The clear intent of the bill is to muzzle the voice and speech of businesses and business associations in the upcoming elections. Small business owners and entrepreneurs already feel their voice is being dismissed and ignored in the legislative process as Congress continues to tax, regulate, mandate, intrude and spend against their interests. H.R. 5175 is simply another tool to shut small businesses out of the political process.

It's hard to imagine how this legislation's title - "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act" (DISCLOSE Act) - could possibly be more misleading. After all, it threatens the First Amendment rights of the business community, including small businesses. A more apt title might be the "Silencing the Voice of Small Business Act."

Indeed, the intent of H.R. 5175 is to stop American businesses and the voluntary associations that represent so many parts of the business community from weighing in on issues of importance leading up to elections. Why exactly is Congress looking to limit the speech of entrepreneurs and small businesses? Meanwhile, the free speech rights of labor unions are effectively left intact.

For example, blanket restrictions on election-related speech, such as independent expenditures, would be placed on government contractors, but effectively not unions under government contract. Unwarranted and burdensome disclosure requirements - with the clear intent to scare off speakers - would apply to businesses and business associations, but again, not to labor unions due to the donor levels laid out in the legislation.

In addition, the act's ban on political speech by so-called "foreign-controlled domestic corporations" reaches to businesses with domestic ownership levels reaching 80 percent. Again, there is no application of foreign membership or control levels for labor unions.

Of course, all of this flies directly in the face of the kind of speech most clearly and fully protected under the First Amendment, i.e., speech related to politics, elections and policy. The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear in its decisions that such speech warrants protection, and any differential treatment of speakers based on identity or content violates the First Amendment.

Make no mistake, the effect of the DISCLOSE Act would be to limit views and opinions from the business community, while protecting the political, election-related and policy speech of labor unions.

And apparently, the NRA would be protected as well ... but not the rest of us, including small businesses.

Raymond J. Keating
Chief Economist
Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

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