The Democrats’ elections bill, H.R. 1, has been reintroduced [unofficial bill text here - section summaries here]. It’s similar to last year’s bill, a sprawling 791-page hydra-headed monster that touches on everything from voter rolls and redistricting commissions to campaign finance and beyond. Tonight, I will barely scratch the surface on just one aspect of the bill, its threats to free speech.
According to the Institute for Free Speech, H.R. 1 “would institute sweeping new limitations on speech about campaigns and public affairs. This radical bill would, in fact, greatly harm the ability of the people to freely speak, publish, and organize into groups to advocate for better government.”
The Chair of the Federal Election Commission would become a powerful ‘campaign speech czar’. The FEC currently functions in a bipartisan manner, with six members - three Republicans and three Democrats. The commissioners select the chair who serves for a one-year term. Under H.R. 1, the FEC would become a partisan agency with five members and a chair appointed by the President. Whereas things are now done by bipartisan agreement, the chair would have the power to prepare the budget, issue subpoenas, compel testimony, and appoint a powerful General Counsel and Staff Director, both of whom would have enforcement powers. Enforcement priorities and the selection of campaigns and campaign finance entities to investigate would become partisan exercises. Regardless of your political leanings, do you really want your worst political enemies to have that kind of power over you?
H.R. 1 would also replace the current rules against coordination between political candidates and super PACs. The new rules would apply year-round, not just to campaign season and, if taken literally, would prevent almost every group of citizens - not just super PACs - from communicating about politics and public issues through radio, TV, newspapers, or the Internet. The only ones left who could participate freely in public debate would be the candidates and political parties themselves - plus anyone that a newly partisan FEC decides not to enforce the rules against.
We are staring down the barrel of a Biden administration with the Democrats in control of the House, the Senate, and the White House. It’s a good bet H.R. 1 will get farther this year than it did last year when it died in the Republican-controlled Senate. I’ll have more to say about H.R. 1 on future webinars.
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