How the Disclose Act would affect free speech and the NRA

Saturday, June 19, 2010; A16

In their June 17 op-ed column, " . . . No, it's a matter of election honesty," Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Michael Castle (R-Del.) concluded that the Disclose Act "simply places disclosure requirements on political activities." This is not true. In fact, beyond its disclosure provisions, which for the most part simply duplicate existing laws and seek to burden speech with excessive regulation, the act would directly prohibit a great deal of political speech that was legal even before the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Prior to Citizens United, corporations and unions were free to speak about officeholders and candidates, without specifically advocating their election or defeat, for all but the 30 days immediately preceding a primary or the 60 days immediately preceding a general election. The Disclose Act, however, defines literally thousands of both nonprofit and for-profit entities as "government contractors" and prohibits them from mentioning a political candidate or officeholder for a period starting 90 days before the primary and going straight through to the general election. In Illinois and Indiana this year, that would be a speech blackout of one full year. In virtually all states it amounts to a blackout of six months or more for thousands of potential speakers. It is even worse in presidential elections, where the blackout period starts 120 days before the New Hampshire primary, or around Labor Day 2011, and lasts through the 2012 general election.

It should be axiomatic that Congress cannot respond to a Supreme Court decision guaranteeing speech rights by limiting speech that was legal even before that decision.

Bradley A. Smith, Alexandria

The writer is chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics.

Regarding the June 17 op-ed piece "It's a cynical, selective muzzle . . . ":

H.R. 5175 would put a gag order on the National Rifle Association. This bill is unconstitutional, and officials of the NRA told Congress we oppose it because any restriction on political speech is repugnant. Consequently, congressional leaders announced they would exempt the NRA from its draconian speech restrictions. If that does not happen, we will strongly oppose the bill.

It's easy to say the NRA should put the Second Amendment at risk over a First Amendment principle to protect other organizations -- unless you work for the NRA and are sworn to defend the Second Amendment above all else. The NRA cannot defend the Second Amendment without the ability to speak.

Media conglomerates such as The Washington Post are exempted from this bill. We will not be silenced while others attack us freely. And we will not risk a strategy that could remove us from the political arena to protect the interests of other organizations. Protecting our members is our job and duty.

Chris W. Cox, Fairfax

The writer is executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.


I question The Post's recommendation that Congress bow to the National Rifle Association's grab for an exemption from pending legislation to control election funds ["Advantage, NRA," editorial, June 17].

Even if America misses this opportunity for important reform, we must recognize that this is Waterloo. The officers of an organization that can extract this privilege from Congress already have more power than any special interest should have in the democracy that we pass to our children.

Stanley E. Cohen, Chevy Chase

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