House Bill 748, “Citizen’s United Response,” affirms the 5-to-4 landmark United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, declaring that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited under the First Amendment. All the while, HB 748 also creates stringent regulations on independent expenditures.
An independent expenditure is any advertisement that advocates the election or defeat of a candidate created by an entity other than a candidate, a candidate’s committee, or political party. This is an important victory for free speech in the United States.
What this bill does is legalize corporate or union-funded ads that support or oppose the election of a government official. The problem with H.B. 748 is that the majority of it is dedicated to limiting the very communications it legalizes.
The bill was originally sponsored by Rep. Koss (D-Wake), Rep. Stam (R-Wake), Rep. Weiss (D-Wake), and Rep. Dollar (R-Wake). The bill which the aforementioned representatives sponsored though, was a simple affirmation of the Supreme Court decision. Once several amendments were added to the bill by the Senate, it barely resembled the draft that was sponsored by Reps. Ross, Stam, Weiss, and Dollar. The amendments introduced before the final passage of the bill create a number of steps a corporation or union must take if it is to advertise support or opposition for a specific candidate. These requirements include, but are not limited to, filing reports with the State Board of Elections regarding all expenses of the communication, information on the organization itself, information on the candidate the organization is endorsing, and information on donors of the organization including full names, addresses, and occupations. If the ad is on the radio or television, the CEO of the sponsoring organization must state in the ad “for donor information contact [Name of board of elections with whom information [was] filed].”
There are two ways to address this attempt at regulation. The first is to defend the right to anonymous speech, which is precisely what Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did in his opinion of the Citizens United case. Justice Thomas claims, “Disclaimer and disclosure requirements enable private citizens and elected officials to implement political strategies specifically calculated to curtail campaign-related activity and prevent the lawful, peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.” This new legislation mainly consists of the very same disclaimer and disclosure requirements Justice Thomas warns against.
Secondly, even if one views disclosure requirements in the same light as the majority of the Supreme Court, which claims they permit “citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” it is undeniable that the requirements in H.B. 748 go beyond simple disclosure.
At the very least, these disclosure requirements add to the massive amount of red tape it takes to get any political undertaking done in this state. For all of these reasons, H.B. 748 is this week’s Bad Bill.