Leader McConnell: SHIELD Act Would "Chill the Exercise of Free Speech"

This morning, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been a steadfast defender of First Amendment rights, spoke on the Senate floor about the SHIELD Act under consideration by the House today.  He called it "the latest installment in Speaker Pelosi’s campaign to expand government’s control over Americans’ political speech."  

Speaker Pelosi's current crusade against Americans' political speech rights began with H.R. 1, and the SHIELD Act contains portions of H.R. 1, the Honest Ads, and other dangerous provisions.  The RNLA sent a letter to the House opposing it.

Leader McConnell noted that the SHIELD Act would quietly and profoundly expand the FEC's power:

The proposal would give the FEC unprecedented license to track and regulate Americans’ political speech on the Internet – and decide what speech qualifies as political in the first place. . . . So House Democrats want to violate the First Amendment and harm journalists in order to give more control to the FEC. That would be the same FEC that Democrats have recently tried to shift from a bipartisan body to a partisan body for the first time ever.

Just like with H.R. 1, even the ACLU is opposing the SHIELD Act because of its assault on First Amendment rights:

Even the ACLU, widely viewed as a left-leaning organization that is not known for siding with Republicans, is publicly opposing the Democrats’ bill.

Here’s what the ACLU says: "The SHIELD Act…strikes the wrong balance, sweeping too broadly and encompassing more speech than necessary…the SHIELD Act goes too far…to the detriment of the public and the First Amendment."

Leader McConnell described how the bill would not prevent foreigners from interfering in our elections:

This proposal will not do anything to stop malign foreign actors, something that every member of this body cares deeply about. As three former FEC chairmen recently pointed out, foreign adversaries like Russia are not going to stop their malign operations for fear of an FEC fine: "Campaign-finance law isn’t the tool to prevent foreign meddling…Adversaries won’t be scared off by civil penalties…This is a job for diplomatic, national security and counterintelligence agencies. [This legislation] is a needless sacrifice of First Amendment rights, not a serious effort to secure elections."

With his usual perspicacity, Leader McConnell identified the true purpose of the SHIELD Act:

So, from Twitter posts to partisan messaging bills, House Democrats’ mission is the same: Chill the exercise of free speech. Send a message to Americans with inconvenient views that speaking up is more trouble than it’s worth.

Preventing foreign election interference is, however, an important goal.  While Democrats on the Hill claim to respond to the problem and threat of foreign election interference by regulating Americans' political speech, Ranking Member Rodney Davis of the Committee on House Administration has introduced a bill that is targeted against foreign actors, not Americans:

To effectively deter foreign meddling in our nation’s elections, the Honest Elections Act would update existing election laws like the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The bill also adopts a modern, common-sense approach for disclosing who has paid for online political ads, increases monitoring of spending by foreign nationals in elections, bans ballot harvesting, and prohibits the Election Assistance Commission funds from going to states allowing non-citizen voting. 

"The type of interference we saw in the 2016 presidential election with Russia's misinformation campaign is unacceptable, which is why I'm putting forth the Honest Elections Act. Our bill is designed to fight nefarious actors from intruding in our elections without infringing on Americans' right to free speech or requiring unworkable standards for digital communications," said Ranking Member Davis. "We may never be able to prevent criminal activity, whether that’s in our elections or in our day-to-day lives, but we can provide our law enforcement with the best tools and resources available. It's imperative that our elections systems are free from foreign influence, and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support this legislation and put the needs of the American people first." 

Thanks to Leader McConnell and Ranking Member Davis for their leadership on election issues and for standing up for Americans' First Amendment rights.