It is happening again. Powerful incumbent politicians fear electoral defeat and they are blaming free speech for it. New York Senator Chuck Schumer is quoted in a recent New York Times article saying, "Reform of the 'super PAC' problem is a major issue for Democrats in the next Congress." Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said if Democrats regain the House, "We would pass a DISCLOSE Act... Amend the Constitution to overturn 'Citizens United.'" We are headed towards the proverbial fiscal cliff and Schumer and Pelosi want to focus on chilling free speech in the next Congress?
Unfortunately, we have heard this story before. In 2010, as Americans suffered with high unemployment, the Democrat-controlled Congress in their great wisdom focused on the DISCLOSE Act instead of legislation to encourage job creation. This misguided bill failed in 2010 and a second version of the DISCLOSE Act failed again earlier this year in Congress. The DISCLOSE Act was an incumbent protection plan that would restrict the rights of the American people to join together and speak out against elected officials and it is worth noting that it was pushed during election years. The American people want their government to work for them, not to continually attempt to pass flawed pieces of legislation that only help ineffective incumbents get reelected.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) already has plenty of regulations on the books. The FEC regulates 71 distinct entities, which in turn are subject to varying rules for 33 different types of political speech. Overall, the FEC has adopted over 500 pages of regulations and more than twice that number of pages of explanations and justifications for those rules. To say those rules are overbearing and a bureaucratic nightmare would be an understatement. King George would have liked a lot of these onerous campaign finance regulations restricting free speech, especially before Citizens United v. FEC struck some of them down. In our case, the government went so far as to argue that books could be banned by FEC bureaucrats, which the high court rightly rejected.
In Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court recognized that "the right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it." What makes America great is that both sides of the argument can be heard and the government cannot control speech. That is why it is so troubling that those who are in power continually try to protect their own standing by limiting the speech of others through legislation like the DISCLOSE Act. Americans cherish their right of free speech and we cannot let the government take that fundamental right away. The answer to speech you don't like is more speech - the American way since 1776.
David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United and Citizens United Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @David_Bossie.
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