Over 200 groups come out against Disclose Act

House members on Wednesday received a letter signed by 232 organizations urging them to oppose the Disclose Act because it threatens the First Amendment rights of businesses.

"The legislation places onerous restrictions on corporate free speech while ignoring unions' immense political influence," the letter states. "The bill imposes no comparable restrictions on labor unions that receive federal grants, negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the government or have international affiliates, even though unions and their political action committees are the single largest contributor to political campaigns and claim to have spent nearly $450 million in the 2008 presidential race."

The bill was created in reaction to the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which ruled corporations are covered under the First Amendment. The ruling essentially removed campaign funding limits for these organizations.

The legislation enhances disclosure rules for campaigns by requiring major backers to appear at the end of commercials for their candidate and announce they sponsored the ad. The top five organizations that donated to the ad would also be disclosed.

"The Disclose Act will increase transparency and disclosure and ensure the American people know who is spending money on elections," Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who authored the legislation, told The Hill. "It's the public's best defense against a takeover of our elections and democracy by powerful interests."

The letter from the 200-plus organizations state that laws are already on the books that require them to disclose who supports their cause.

"[Our] organizations and the interests we represent are no secret; we already identify ourselves in political advertisement under current law," the letter states. "The real intent is to force concerned corporations out in the open so they cannot express views about an incumbent member of Congress without fear of reprisal."

A diverse set of interests are represented by the organizations that signed the letter, from the Agricultural Retailers Association and Automotive Parts Remanufacturers to the Association of American Hospitals and International Housewares Association.

Thornell was not surprised that groups backing specific causes would oppose his boss's bill.

"What would be surprising is if 200 special interests groups were supporting the bill — that would be [the] surest sign its reforms meant nothing," he said, adding that "well-respected government reform groups have all rallied behind [the bill]."