RNLA members Brad Smith and Eric Wang coauthored an op-ed in The Hill debunking proposed legislation in Senate, which would have vast consequences if enacted. The piece looks at the "DISCLOSE Act of 2017" introduced by Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) which would restrict and heavily regulate political speech in America ahead of elections.
This is not the first introduction of a bill like this. Rather, it is just the latest version to drop into the "legislative hopper" in the wake of the 2016 Election and alleged Russian attempted interference with the presidential election. This 2017 version is just an opportunistic way to limit political speech at home.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Wang write:
Foreign interference with our elections is already illegal. Under existing law, foreign nationals and foreign corporations are strictly prohibited from making political contributions and independent expenditures in connection with elections for federal, state, and local office. . . Under existing law, foreign nationals and foreign corporations are strictly prohibited from making political contributions and independent expenditures in connection with elections for federal, state, and local office. However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has properly recognized that millions of Americans have not surrendered their right to political speech simply because they work at foreign-owned corporations. Thus, domestic subsidiaries of foreign companies like Anheuser-Busch, Bayer Health and Honda Motor, which are integral parts of the national and local economies, are permitted to engage in certain political activities, so long as those activities are directed by American citizens.
The Disclose Act of 2017 introduced by Whitehouse would upend the existing law by categorically prohibiting any political activity by a corporation or subsidiary if more than 20 percent of its voting shares are foreign-owned. This percentage ownership limit is a smokescreen, however, as the bill also would much more severely prohibit any corporate political activity if a foreign national “has the power to direct, dictate, or control the [corporation’s] decisionmaking process.” Because the owner of even one share of a publicly traded corporation generally has such power through a shareholders meeting or a proxy vote, this provision likely would strip away the political speech rights of any public company with even one foreign shareholder.
In a vacuum, perhaps we could be accused of over-reading this extreme result into the bill. But FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub outlined this very same legal approach in a New York Times opinion last year as a way to counteract the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which permitted certain corporate political activity. Thirty-seven of the 38 Senate sponsors and co-sponsors of the latest Disclose Act who were in the chamber in 2014 also voted to amend the Constitution to override Citizens United. While that effort failed, it now appears those Senators are trying to use a mere bill to accomplish the same result, a maneuver that is clearly unconstitutional.
Aside from its foreign national provisions, the latest Disclose Act also contains numerous purported disclosure requirements (hence its name). But those disclosure provisions are also ploys to shut down political speech. For example, the bill would require any corporation (even one that has no foreign owners at all) making a “campaign-related disbursement” to disclose all of its “beneficial owners,” a term which likely includes any shareholder. For a company with tens of thousands of shareholders, including many who own shares through mutual funds and are unknown to the corporation, complying with this requirement would be practically impossible, and thus political speech would be essentially prohibited. . . .
This is yet another example of the left trying to politically capitalize on the alleged Russian attempted interference with our past election. Rather than directly addressing what allegedly occurred last year, the left would rather limit political speech overall, even from domestic sources and especially from those who may disagree with them. Private entities such as Facebook are also changing their practices, which raises concerns about private regulation of political speech by unaccountable--but nonetheless powerful--brokers of communication in our modern era.