Alexander Says DISCLOSE Act Would “Chill & Discourage Free Speech”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tn.) on Monday voted against the DISCLOSE Act, saying the bill would “chill and discourage free speech.”

Senator Alexander added, “The real solution would be to get rid of the limits on contributions—we’d have full disclosure because everyone would be encouraged to give their money directly to the campaigns, which must disclose contributions in ways that don’t discourage free speech.”

At a Senate Rules Committee hearing on the DISCLOSE Act in March, Senator Alexander explained how removing the contribution limits on parties and candidates would encourage those currently giving to super PACs to redirect their contributions. All contributions to parties and candidates are fully disclosed under current law, and contributions to individual candidates from unions or corporations are prohibited. 

Senator Alexander made the following remarks at that hearing:

“Most of the enthusiasm for this hearing and this bill comes—as the chairman indicated in his remarks—because of the Citizens United decision, which basically said that rich non-candidates and corporations have the same rights rich candidates have to spend their money in support of campaigns. This legislation is in the name of full disclosure, and I’m in favor of full disclosure. But there’s nothing in the Constitution about full disclosure; there is something in the Constitution about free speech. I often go by the Newseum, down the street, where on the wall it says, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” The provisions in this bill chill and discourage free speech.

“Fortunately, there is a way to have full disclosure and free speech, and that is to take all the limits off campaign contributions. The problem is the limits. These new super PACs exist because of the contribution limits we’ve placed upon parties and candidates. Get rid of the limits on contributions and super PACs will go away and you’ll have full disclosure, because everyone will give their money directly to the campaigns. And the campaigns must disclose their contributions in ways that we’ve already agreed don’t discourage free speech.

“I’ve done some research in preparation for this, and I’ve found an especially compelling statement before this committee that was rendered exactly 12 years ago today, March 29, 2000. Some of you were actually here that day. It was given by an obscure former governor who had run for president and who had ‘permanently retired’ from politics, and he came before this committee and these were the words he said: ‘I’ve come to Washington to argue one practical proposition: that the thousand-dollar individual contribution limit in our presidential nominating system makes it virtually impossible for anyone except the frontrunner or a remarkably rich person to have enough money to run a serious campaign. This has a number of bad effects for our democracy. It limits the voters’ choices, and the opportunity to hear more about the issues. It gives insiders in the media more say, outsiders less, it protects incumbents, discourages insurgents, makes raising money the principle occupation of most candidates, which in turn makes campaigns too long. The thousand-dollar limit was put in place in ’74 after Watergate to reduce the influence of money in politics. It has done just the reverse. I’ve also come with this practical solution: Raise the limit.’

“That obscure, ‘retired’ former governor was me. A few years earlier, Senator McCarthy, a better-known retired politician, came before this committee and said he never would have been able to challenge Lyndon Johnson if Stewart Mott and others, who agreed with him, hadn’t given him so much money in the 1968 campaign.

“Now, the reason I’m talking about limits is because if we took the limits off, we’d solve the disclosure problem. Rich candidates can continue their campaigns. The Super PACs have actually permitted candidates like Gingrich and Santorum and others to continue to run. Presidential races before this year were as if the Patriots lost the first three games and we told them to get out of the season. Or as if Tiger Woods shot 40 on the front nine, and we said, ‘Withdraw from the Masters.’

“In the NFL and at the Masters, you play all the way through to the end. Having money is what you need to play all the way through to the end, and if Senator Kerry and Steve Forbes have their own money, then others ought to be able to contribute their money. So, Mr. Chairman, as long as we have a First Amendment to the Constitution, individuals and groups have a right to express themselves and the best way to combine free speech with full disclosure in a way that does not chill free speech is to take off all the limits, which would cause most contributors to give to campaigns, it would dry up the Super PACs, and it would make this legislation, which chills free speech, completely unnecessary.”

Later in the hearing, Senator Alexander added:

“Because of the limits in 1995, when I was a candidate, I went to 250 fundraisers to try to get money from people who couldn’t give more than $1,000. So I spent a lot of time with people who could afford to give a thousand dollars, 70 percent of my time over a year – that’s 250 events. That raised $10 or $11 million dollars.

“At the same time Steve Forbes was able to spend $37 million of his own money. That’s what he did in 1996, and in 2000 he spent $38 million of his own money. I told that to Senator Kerry when I was on the Harvard faculty in the early 2000’s. I said ‘you know there’s never been a credible candidate for President who spent his own money. And if you’re ever in that position and you did it, it would probably help you.’ He was in that position in 2003, Howard Dean was beating him pretty badly in terms of the money raised – Dean had raised $14 million, Kerry $4 million. And the media was saying Kerry can’t raise money therefore he won’t make a good President. Kerry put $6 million of his own money in and won the Iowa caucus and became the nominee.

“I watch Fox and MSNBC sometimes when I’m down in the gym with Senator Schumer watching television. They run ads regularly just the way that – I mean their broadcasts are ads in many cases for a political point of view, that’s their right to do. In countries where we don’t have a democracy, the first thing the leaders do is to take over the television stations, and keep everybody else from having enough money or resources to advertise their views. So it seems to me that as long as we have a first amendment, long as we have a first amendment that permits Steve Forbes, a fine American, John Kerry, a fine American, and others to spend their own money, that all we’re doing with limits is turning Washington into a city of panderers for $1,00 or $2,000 contributions. Before 1975 we didn’t spend all our time at fundraisers, after 1975 Congressmen did, and the only reason you do, is because you can’t raise money in sufficient amounts to run a campaign that buys enough television time to compete with the ads the TV stations are already running, or the ads that rich Americans might buy because they have the money themselves.

“So taking the limits off would solve almost all the disclosure problems, because the money would be given to candidates and campaigns, and more people would participate, campaigns would run longer as they have this year in the Republican primary, more voters would have a chance to vote, and elected officials would spend a lot less time with people who are trying to give them money.”

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