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House Democrats Prioritize Bill to Restrict Free Speech

Updated: Apr 2

The new House of Representatives takes office tomorrow. What is the first major order of business for the Democratic majority? They plan to vote on HR 1, a bill to restrict your ability to speak out on political issues and then force you to pay for political speech with which you may disagree.

Sure, the supporters of this legislation call it an “anti-corruption” measure. The details of the bill indicate that its backers think that the most worrisome form of corruption is people working together to speak out about what politicians are doing. While the bill would do a variety of things, the main provision would restrict many ways that people use to voice their opinions on policy issues and politicians. It’s almost like those politicians don’t like this criticism and are trying to stifle it.

HR 1 resurrects the DISCLOSE Act from the prior session of Congress. The Institute for Free Speech (IFS) has compiled an excellent analysis of the numerous ways this bill would restrict speech. The IFS concludes:

… the bill uses the language of “disclosure” to disguise its true effect of shutting down political and issue speech by for-profit and nonprofit corporations alike. The bill would do so by drastically expanding the existing time windows during which speech is regulated, and by imposing conditions for speaking that are practically impossible to comply with. While the bill purports to address foreign spending in American elections, its actual provisions are not targeted at foreign nationals, but instead would cover all domestic public corporations as well.

HR 1 also contains the so-called “Honest Ads Act,” which would impose new restrictions on social media political ads. As the IFS points out, this is a huge expansion of government power over the Internet:

The bill requires online platforms to demand personal data from ad buyers to be maintained in a “public file.” It creates onerous new reporting and disclosure requirements for nearly anyone buying an Internet ad close to an election. In addition, the bill creates liability for platforms that fail to make “reasonable efforts” – a term left undefined – to prevent foreign nationals from purchasing political or issue advertising. Far from a “light touch,” the Honest Ads Act’s broad regulation of Internet speech is unprecedented.

The effect of these policies would be to reduce the ability of people to voice their opinions on what politicians are doing. Instead of encouraging free speech, as the First Amendment does, HR 1 is explicitly aimed at deterring free speech.

Other portions of the bill are not as egregious as this attack on our free speech rights, but are troubling nonetheless. For instance, the legislation would establish a federal matching fund for small-dollar donations to candidates. In other words, this is welfare for political campaigns. Not only would the bill stifle your right to speak out against a candidate, it would funnel your tax money to candidates with whom you disagree. These candidates would then use that money to pay for ads that contain speech — the very type of speech that this bill discourages regular people from making.

By prioritizing this legislation, the new House majority has starkly illustrated its view on citizen participation in the political process. This legislation would make it much more difficult for people to band together to proclaim their opinions on either politicians or policy. It would hobble grassroots efforts to use social media to speak out on political issues. And it would use your tax dollars to fund the political speech of politicians you may not like. This is not an anti-corruption bill; it is an anti-speech bill.

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