The Democrats’ DISCLOSE bill is ostensibly intended to force the disclosure of the funding sources of political speech. In fact, the law already requires disclosure of the funding of political speech (read Justice Thomas’s blistering concurrence in the Citizens United decision for why that’s a bad idea). The real effect, if not indeed the real purpose, of the bill is to create a huge chilling effect against individuals speaking out in politics.
Chuck Schumer (D-NY) admits this. In a speech supporting the DISCLOSE bill, he calls for limits on free speech:
I believe there ought to be limits because the First Amendment is not absolute. No amendment is absolute. You can’t scream ‘fire’ falsely in a crowded theater. We have libel laws. We have anti-pornography laws. All of those are limits on the First Amendment. Well, what could be more important than the wellspring of our democracy? And certain limits on First Amendment rights that if left unfettered, destroy the equality — any semblance of equality in our democracy — of course would be allowed by the Constitution. And the new theorists on the Supreme Court who don’t believe that, I am not sure where their motivation comes from, but they are just so wrong. They are just so wrong.
Notice what is absent from Schumer’s argument: anything at all to limit its application. He observes that there are some limits on the freedom of speech, and argues therefore that the government can impose other limits on the freedom of speech. He does not identify anything special about his desired anti-speech rule that would be parallel to fire-in-a-crowded-theater, libel, or pornography.
Let’s please not have any more nonsense about how the Democrats are the party of civil liberties.