Too Big To DISCLOSE? SBE Council Rips Bill that Protects Speech of Powerful Interests, but Muzzles Small Business

With a June 18 vote expected in the U.S. House on the so-called “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act” (DISCLOSE Act, H.R. 5175), a leading small business advocacy organization ripped the legislation, and said its clear intent is to silence the voice of small business during the 2010 election cycle. SBE Council President & CEO Karen Kerrigan sent a letter to every House member detailing the group’s outrage about H.R. 5175’s “unconstitutional, discriminatory, onerous and politically motivated underpinnings.” SBE Council will KEY VOTE the legislation as a vote against small business in its upcoming Ratings of Congress.

“Small business owners are rightly outraged by this legislative charade. It imposes complex and burdensome ‘disclosure’ requirements on businesses and their associations, while exempting big powerful interests like labor unions, the NRA and AARP. First there was ‘too big to fail’ and now ‘too big to disclose’ – small business owners keep getting the shaft from this Congress,” said Kerrigan.

According to SBE Council’s Kerrigan, H.R. 5175 is a bad bill that got worse once the National Rifle Association (NRA) cut its deal with House Democrats. The NRA will not take a position on the bill ever since language was included that effectively exempts the organization from its onerous and unconstitutional demands.

Kerrigan said, “This special deal for the NRA and other groups is a scandal. It speaks to the desperation of the bill’s supporters to muzzle the business community during the upcoming election cycle.”

The unwarranted, complex and burdensome disclosure requirements in H.R. 5175 would apply to businesses and business associations, but not to labor unions or the NRA due to the crafty donor levels designed by the legislation. Blanket restrictions on election-related speech, such as independent expenditures, would be placed on government contractors, but effectively not unions under government contract. Unworkable and intimidating “stand by your ad” provisions would only apply to business groups and other advocacy organizations.

“Essentially, the free speech rights of labor unions, the NRA and a few other powerful interest groups are left intact by the bill. Our voice is effectively curbed by the legislation,” added Kerrigan.

According to SBE Council, the bill’s language flies directly in the face of the kind of speech most clearly and fully protected under the First Amendment, i.e., speech related to politics, elections and policy. The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear in its decisions that such speech warrants protection, and any differential treatment of speakers based on identity or content violates the First Amendment.

“No matter where one happens to fall on the philosophical and political spectrum, this legislation is nothing less than shameful,” concluded Kerrigan.

SBE Council is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting small business and promoting entrepreneurship. For additional information, please visit: http://www.sbecouncil.org/.

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