July 26, 2010 12:00 am

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Bill Will Compromise Free Speech
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WASHINGTON – The Senate today and tomorrow will debate a campaign finance bill that includes disclosure requirements that raise significant civil liberties concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union is urging senators to vote against the bill because those disclosure requirements are overly broad and inconsistent and will likely infringe upon the free speech and privacy rights of Americans.

The Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) bill (H.R. 5628) includes a provision obligating many advocacy organizations that wish to speak out on candidates and, in certain situations, political issues, to release the identities of many of their donors, while allowing a few large organizations to preserve the privacy of their donors. The amendment exempts organizations that have over 500,000 members, are over 10 years old, have a presence in all 50 states and whose revenue from corporations and unions is less than 15 percent. By exempting larger organizations that might tend to be more mainstream from certain disclosure requirements, the bill inequitably suppresses only the speech of smaller organizations that might be more controversial, and compromises the anonymity of small donors.

The House passed its version of the DISCLOSE Act in June.

The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“Public discourse and debate is a cornerstone of our democracy and our Constitution ensures the right of individuals to engage in these conversations without being exposed to unnecessary risks of harassment or embarrassment. The only way to bring positive change to our elections is to promote reforms that respect free speech and do not limit it. We urge the Senate to vote down this well-intentioned but overly broad legislation.”

The following can be attributed to Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel:

“The ACLU supports the disclosure of large contributions to candidates as long as it does not have a chilling effect on political participation, but the DISCLOSE Act would inflict unnecessary damage to free speech rights and does not include the proper safeguards to protect Americans’ privacy. The bill would severely impact donor anonymity, especially those donors who give to smaller and more controversial organizations.”

A copy of a letter from the ACLU to the Senate on the DISCLOSE Act is available at:

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