U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) Tuesday afternoon sought to shed light on the risks to the First Amendment rights of free speech and association under provisions of a controversial campaign finance bill promoted by Democrats since 2010.

Hyde-Smith serves on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee that conducted a hearing to examine the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act of 2021 or DISCLOSE Act (S.443).

“The message that the DISCLOSE Act will not overcome legal challenges on its infringement of our First Amendment rights just doesn’t seem to resonate with congressional Democrats, who have been trying to pass these restrictions for more than a decade,” Hyde-Smith said.  “It’s clear that the DISCLOSE Act would harm the rights of Americans guaranteed by the First Amendment to freely speak, publish, organize into groups, and petition.”

Broadly, S.443 would greatly expand regulated speech by triggering disclosure for entities and individuals that make “campaign-related disbursements” that aggregate more than $10,000 in an election reporting cycle, including a new type of speech called an “applicable public communication,” and communications related to federal judicial nominations.

Under questioning from Hyde-Smith, David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech, focused on the detrimental effects the disclosure requirements in S.443 would have on groups trying to petition the government.

“We would see a real atrophy of national organizations being able to influence policy,” Keating said.  “I really fear that if this bill becomes law, over time, over decades, it will make it really difficult for minority viewpoints to appeal to our fellow Americans, ‘Rethink things. We need to make these changes nationally.’”

Keating described the bill as being “the first ever legislation to require disclosure for grassroots lobbying efforts,” which could cause self-censorship by groups not willing to meet legal and compliance costs associated with disclosure requirements.

“These legal and compliance costs will force many smaller groups to self-censor.  It will definitely increase the costs of criticizing the government,” Keating said in his opening statement.  “Let’s keep in mind the purpose of disclosure is to allow citizens to monitor the government.  That is why we have disclosure of contributions to candidates and political parties controlled by the candidates.  It is not to allow the government to monitor the political activity of its citizens.”

During the 117th Congress, Hyde-Smith has voted numerous times against provisions of S.443, which were incorporated into the overreaching legislation that would, among other things, federalize elections, ban Mississippi’s voter ID law, force taxpayers to fund political campaigns, and restore a Justice Department rule over any changes to Mississippi election laws.

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