When even the ACLU is objecting to a Democrat “election reform” bill, you know it’s got big problems. The House Democrats’ bill isn’t just a problem for ballot integrity, it’s also a big problem for free speech.
As I pointed out in an earlier piece, House Democrats are trying to sell H.R. 1, the “For the People Act of 2019,” as an update on the 1965 Voting Rights Act and have given it the symbolic status of the first bill of the 116th Congress. Some of its provisions restore voting rights to felons and limit states’ ability to run their own elections while chipping away at state-level safeguards against voter fraud.
But now, according to a report at The Washington Times, provisions of the bill addressing campaign speech have even drawn concern from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said in a 13-page letter that it would like to see the bill amended before it is passed.
“To be clear, there are many provisions of H.R. 1 that we strongly support and have long championed, we would readily support these provisions if considered as separate bills,” the letter reads. “However, there are also provisions that unconstitutionally impinge on the free speech rights of American citizens and public interest organizations.”
The letter details which portions of the legislation the ACLU finds to be constitutionally troublesome. In particular, it takes issue with a section that would require political nonprofits to disclose their donor lists (the DISCLOSE Act), one that regulates online political ads “beyond the bounds permitted by the Supreme Court” (the Honest Ads Act), and and “vague” language “that could be interpreted broadly” to regulate political candidates’ speech “about the public policy issues of the day” (Stop Super PAC-Candidate Coordination Act).
An earlier memo from the Conservative Action Project voiced similar concerns about the legislation, saying that it “would allow the Federal Election Commission to track and catalogue more of what Americans are saying, register even very small political donations, and make public those who donate to different charitable and nonprofit organizations.”
The overarching leftist issue being addressed in these provisions is the idea that the rich have too large a say in American politics because of PACS and their so-called “dark money.”
Sound familiar? For years, Democratic politicians have talked about the FEC vs. Citizens United campaign finance decision in terms similar to those pro-life Republicans use to discuss Roe v. Wade, and with almost equal fervor. If you believe the narrative, that was the case that opened the Pandora’s box of “dark money” into U.S. elections.
But curtailing political donors’ First Amendment rights to free speech and free association can’t be the answer. The Founders never included a cutoff point for when people become supposedly too rich or influential to exercise their rights. And despite shying away from defending other parts of the First Amendment in recent years, the ACLU understands this.
A floor vote is expected for the bill later this week. Will House lawmakers listen?