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Silencing debate

The history is crucial. In the Citizens United case, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether campaign finance laws were properly applied to restrict the showing of a film critical of Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2007, at the time the former first lady was seeking her party’s presidential nomination.

Read it again. In a “free” country, a federal law was used to ban showing a movie to those willing to pay for it.

During oral arguments, even then-Justice David Souter, who supported federal regulation of campaign spending, sounded stunned when a government attorney argued that the law could be used to stop a labor union from using its own funds to pay an author to write a campaign biography later published in book form by Random House.

On Jan. 21, the high court quite properly ruled that if that was what the law said, the law was an ass. The court struck down the parts of the McCain-Feingold law — an incumbent protection act, really — that barred corporations and unions from spending their own in-house cash to advocate for political candidates or issues.

President Barack Obama was outraged, immediately ordering his aides “to get to work immediately with Congress” to develop “a forceful response” to the high court’s ruling.

Thus was born the Disclose Act.

Yes, the bill — which passed the Democrat-controlled House on Thursday with the help of votes from local Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus — is tricked up with a bunch of “disclosure” requirements, really designed to make political advertising as costly and cumbersome as possible, while exempting unions from many of the restrictions.

The authors even admit what they’re up to.

The provisions, says Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, “make corporations realize everything they do in the nature of political advocacy will be public. That will make them think twice before spending unlimited sums to influence elections. The deterrent effect should not be underestimated.”

To “deter” political free speech. An interesting goal.

A law that throws roadblocks in the way of political free speech by one group of advocates, while carving out “exemptions” for others, is an attempt to alter electoral outcomes by silencing one side. That’s unconstitutional. The high court will probably so rule, eventually.

But Democrats don’t care about “eventually.” They care about November. Nevada’s own Harry Reid and Sen. Schumer now say they will work “tirelessly for Senate consideration of the House-passed bill so it can be signed by the president in time to take effect for the 2010 elections.”

So, advocates of freedom and the First Amendment must work just as hard to defeat it.

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