10 Jul 1998 Blacks Say Shays/Meehan Campaign Reform Bill Would Have Chilling Effect on Minority Political Speech
Members of the Black leadership network Project 21 say that the campaign finance reform legislation by Representatives Chris Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA), which is scheduled for a House vote the week of July 13-17, is unwise and would impose a very frightening effect on the distribution of material that reports our votes, where we stand on issues and advocacy speech that is essential in a democracy. Under the Shays/Meehan bill, the group says, a voter guide characterizing a candidate as “pro-life” or “pro-choice” or other commentary would be banned or regulated.
Thousands of national, state, and local organizations, like the NAACP, the Christian Coalition and the ACLU, each year publish “voter guides” comparing elected officeholders on issues of interest to their membership. These voter guides are distributed in churches and labor unions, as well as on the Internet. The Shays/Meehan “exemption” for voter guides would impose federal government regulation and control of voter guides.
Stuart Pigler, legislative aide to state Rep. Dick Posthumus (R-MI) and Project 21 member says, “We need these guides. We the constituents should know how our elected officials vote and the guides are a key in letting us know their position on the issues. We have the right to educational materials and the government should not be yielding political speech through harsh regulations.”
The legislation contains provisions that would:
* Restrict the right of the people to express their opinions about elected officials and issues through unprecedented limitations on text accompanying issue group voting records and restraints on citizen commentary prior to election.
* Restrict contributions to, and uses of, soft money.
* Yield free expression through burdensome reporting requirements and greatly expanded FEC investigative and enforcement authority.
Trying to protect voter guides from government control is Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA), whose amendment to H.R 3526 reads: “The term ‘express advocacy’ shall not apply with respect to any communications which provides information or commentary on the voting record of, or positions on issues taken by, any individual holding Federal office or any candidate for election for Federal office, unless the communication contains explicit words expressly urging a vote for or against any identified candidate or political party.”
When the house takes up campaign reform legislation, it will immediately continue debate on the Doolittle Amendment to exempt voter guides and scorecards from regulations by bureaucrats at the Federal Elections Commission. Project 21 wants Black America to know that without the Doolittle Amendment, voter guides and scorecards in churches, union halls by groups like the NAACP and the Christian Coalition could be banned or severely regulated, having a critical effect on their political speech.