Campaign Finance Disclosure Is a Burden That Restricts Independent Speech
Donors are required to file excessively long reports that have no meaning
June 21, 2012
Proponents of disclosure argue that it is necessary to provide important information to voters. In reality, the information provided does little if anything to enlighten a voter. The current disclosure regime requires federal political committees to report every donor whose contributions exceed $200. This results in reports that are often hundreds, if not thousands of pages long. Those select few who bother to wade through these massive reports will learn little regarding the candidate, the committee, or their supporters.
Due to the recent decision in Van Hollen v. FEC, similarly ridiculous burdens will now be applied to nonprofit organizations that dare to utter a federal candidate's name within 60 days of an election. Organizations seeking to make these "electioneering communications" will be forced to file voluminous reports with the FEC itemizing all donors to the organization who have contributed $1,000 or more since the first day of the preceding calendar year. These reports will no longer make an intent-based distinction regarding whether contributors intended to fund the advertising; merely supporting a nonprofit organization that makes an electioneering communication will cause their name to be filed in an overbroad campaign finance report.
Disclosure must be balanced against the burden on potential speakers. Having to file reports that are thousands of pages long if one so much as mentions a candidate will severely chill speech. Citizens United unleashed a new wave of independent speech that threatened to upend the Left's dominance of the airwaves. The institutional Left feared that educated voters, empowered by the Citizens United decision, would reject their failed policies and candidates. Rep. Chris Van Hollen's lawsuit was an attempt to mute Citizens United and silence independent speech.
This cycle, thanks to the Van Hollen decision, potential speakers will remain silent when faced with the excessive burdens the court has imposed. Rep. Chris Van Hollen will have succeeded in silencing a class of speakers he dislikes. This is a disastrous result for our democracy and for the First Amendment. What we need is meaningful disclosure, not overbroad disclosure requirements that burden speakers and stifle speech in order to provide volumes of data that is of little to no use to voters—if that results in less disclosure, so be it.