Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 08:45 am (CNA).- A pro-life advocacy group warns that a new campaign finance reform bill could unfairly restrict their communications.
Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the For the People Act of 2021 (H.R. 1), framing the bill as a top priority of the 117th Congress. In a joint statement, Pelosi, together with Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), said the reform bill was needed because “[o]ur democracy is in a state of deep disrepair.”
A companion bill to H.R. 1 has been re-introduced in the Senate as well.
Supporters of H.R. 1 say it would shed light on “dark money” in politics, or spending by political-advocacy groups such as 501(c)4 organizations which are not required to disclose their donors.
However, the pro-life group March for Life Action–the political advocacy arm of the non-profit March for Life–says the proposed legislation is so broad, it would treat small-dollar donors like lobbyists. Thus, it would limit their communication with supporters and require the disclosure of small donors–possibly affecting future donations.
“It’s less about a direct threat to life as it is about how we can communicate, either to elected officials or to the grassroots about problems in legislation,” Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told CNA in an interview on Thursday.
He expressed concern that these small donors would become the subject of unwarranted scrutiny “especially in this atmosphere we have today.”
“Say a donor gave to us because they wanted to help fund the Virginia state [pro-life] March–even though they have nothing to do with our work on judicial nominations, we would have to release their names to this federal database,” he said. “It exposes donors for certain entities, especially if you even remotely work on judicial issues.”
In the event of a Supreme Court vacancy, McClusky argued, his group would be “limited in what we can and can’t say about the next nominee.”
In the joint statement introducing the legislation, House Democrats cited “rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special interest dark money” in the 2020 elections as problems their bill seeks to help overcome.
They stated their “commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms” by passing H.R. 1.
The statement added that the bill “will protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, hold elected officials accountable and end the era of big, dark, special-interest money in our politics.”
McClusky added that his group has not been the only one to oppose such legislation; the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the 2019 version of the bill. At the time, the organization said that the legislation would “require disclosure of an overbroad number of donors.”
A 2019 ACLU letter notes that under the proposed bill, “many donors to issue advocacy organizations may be surprised to find themselves held responsible for communications they may not know about, or, potentially, even support.”
“It is unfair to hold donors responsible for every communication in which an organization engages,” the ACLU letter stated. “Moreover, it is unclear how such an overbroad requirement serves the government’s interest in providing the electorate information about who is supporting or opposing a candidate for office.”
The ACLU did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they will oppose the 2021 version of the bill.
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