Look at most polls and you’ll see voters are in a surly mood and wanting to boot incumbents out of office. So no one should have been surprised that congressional leadership wants to move fast to pass new restrictions on speech by those who might disagree with them.
It’s called the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections, or “DISCLOSE Act.” A long and cute title, but the bill is really designed to put duct tape over the mouths of businesses and trade associations. Labor unions and trial lawyers get a pass in the bill, an important preferential treatment with real election impacts.
For-profit corporations doing federal contract business, taking TARP money, or with as little as 20% overseas ownership would be flatly shut-out of making campaign communications. CEOs of any other corporations who tried to speak up would have to go on camera in any advertisement saying they approved the ad and could face criminal complaints. Independent expenditure ads by businesses and associations would be blocked from being on the air from April through November in Indiana.
For decades, federal campaign finance rules and “reform” packages like McCain-Feingold were crafted with some balance for corporations and labor unions. The DISCLOSE Act abandons this important balance and bipartisanship. There was no attempt at a bipartisan approach here, particularly with the current chair of the House Democrat Campaign Committee (Rep. Van Hollen) and immediate past chair of the Senate campaign committee (Sen. Chuck Schumer) actually authoring the bill.
Businesses and trade associations have First Amendment free speech rights, as reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Citizens United ruling last year. That pesky First Amendment getting in the way of politicians again.
Earlier (this week) Treasury officials announced a new initiative that will use up to $1 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to provide lower-cost capital to banks, credit unions, and thrifts that have been certified as Community Development Financial Institutions. The intention, officials say, is to boost the small business lending ability of CDFIs serving low- and moderate-income communities around the country that are struggling because of the recession.
Officials say term sheets will be available by the end of the week and certified institutions will be able to apply by the end of the month.
The CDFI program is separate from the legislative proposal Obama made yesterday to create a $30 billion fund to help community banks provide loans that will spur hiring by small businesses.
Federal issues — and the price tags attached to many of the efforts and proposals — were featured in today’s Policy Issue Conference Call for Chamber members. Cameron Carter, who leads the Chamber’s federal lobbying efforts, discussed a variety of topics.
Add up the numbers — $1.2 trillion in stimulus, $750 billion in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), $410 billion in additional 2009 budget appropriations and proposed 2010 budgets from the House, Senate and White House of approximately $3.5 trillion — and as Carter said, "We’re looking at debt levels not seen since the end of World War II." The expected $1.75 trillion deficit in a single year is projected to double the existing debt in five years and triple it within 10 years.
Some of the other discussion points:
Employee Free Choice Act: Senate is now several votes short of what it needs for cloture. The issue is not going away, however, with a potential return to the agenda in June or July.
Environmental carbon tax, and cap and trade provisions that would "increase the cost of all goods we consume." While the goal of protecting the environment is laudable, the creation of a market for carbon emissions will produce a price tag beyond comprehension. Carter says to expect some type of legislation yet this year.
Health care: Another top President Obama priority, Carter calls it a "stealth" procedure thus far, putting elements of health care reform into the stimulus package and budget resolutions. While a health care bill itself with the goal of providing insurance for all is on the way, the strategy thus far in this area and others of "policymaking within budget resolutions" is concerning. The reason it’s being done: it takes 51 votes in the Senate to pass budget matters, compared to the 60 needed for cloture on other issues to allow debate to move forward.
Immigration reform: In the past week, Obama cited this as another top priority to an already crowded plate for Congress. That may lead, Carter offers, to something else falling by the wayside.
Carter also discussed the more high profile roles for Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (one of the leaders of a Moderate Dems Working Group) and Rep. Mike Pence (chairman of the House Republican Conference). He closed with a simple "no" when asked if he had any desire to be working on these issues in Washington — where he served on the staff of Sen. Richard Lugar in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
That’s OK. He and others working to protect the business interests of Indiana companies and their employees will have their hands full right here in the Hoosier state.