Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is Mike Castle capable of being a Senator?

Congressman Mike Castle joined Progressive Democrat Chris Van Hollen from Maryland in authoring the much talked about "Disclose Bill" also known by the bill number H.R. 5175. On Thursday June 17th, Congressman Castle and Congressman Van Hollen posted an op-ed in the Washington Post. It claimed that the Supreme Court ruling on January 21, 2010 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission "dramatically expanded the ability of special interests to influence the political process." 49% of Americans disagree and believe that this bill is nothing more than a last ditch effort by desperate law makers to get reelected or elected to new positions in government.

However, the case brought before the Supreme Court by citizens United (whose President by the way has endorsed Christine O'Donnell in her Delaware Senate bid against Mike Castle) actually evened the playing field for all speakers. Up until January 21 of this year there were restrictions placed only on corporations spending its own money on running "political ads" not coordinated with political campaigns. However, labor unions, citizens groups and others were free to promote/denounce issues and contribute to candidates. By allowing corporations the same freedoms granted to all Americans and reinstating the rights of corporate speech which had been stifled for 20 years, the courts reintroduced a sense of fairness. Now small businesses, corporations, labor unions and citizens groups can speak out for or against their elected officials. Now the thoughts and concerns of your neighbors, local business owners and other groups are no longer stifled.

As for the "Disclose Bill" it self, the legislation is at best ambiguous and at worst purposely so. The bill which was written at the direction of President Obama by Castle and Van Hollen does little to keep "corporate money" out of the process and in fact, the toughest points of the legislation impact citizens groups who have members and rely on "donors". Corporations like Goldman Sachs and Hewlett-Packard would not be included in these provisions. These and other large corporations spent an estimated $3.48 BILLION (more than twice as much as they spent in '99) on lobbying to get around laws similar to the "Disclose Bill" in 2009 and they have PLENTY to continue doing that.

It's the non-profit organizations on all sides of the aisle that the legislation hits. The Disclose act will increase the costs of political speech for groups like your local 9-12 chapter, union or gun advocacy group. Disclosure and disclaimers are called for down to the top 5 donors for a particular ad and these disclosures will be costly to implement for groups who do not have the immense resources that corporations have. These disclosures ("My name is Ted Smith and i approve this message." or "Citizens United for Furry Fat Sloths paid for the content of this advertising.") which currently are only required to be around 4-5 seconds would be expanded to cover around 1/2 of a 30 second commercial by requiring the top 5 donors to be exposed ("My name is Ted Smith, My name is Jill Anderson, My name is Keith Richards, My name is Tyson Gray and My name is Megan Bacon and we approve this message" or "Citizens United for Furry Fat Sloths paid for the content of this advertising with the help of Megan Bacon, Ted Smith, Jill Anderson, Keith Richards and Tyson Gray who donated $250,000 for this ad.).

Also, membership-based groups are required to file a report with the FEC within 24 hours of running political ads. For organizations that raise funds via multiple sources (mail, Internet, telephone, etc.) this task would be nearly impossible in such a short time. Even candidates who file their FEC reports are given 15 days to complete the paperwork. The bill has undergone a few changes since it was written including increasing the previous $50,000 minimum to exclude contractors from being able to influence elections. The minimum was increased to $7 million on May 20th, 3 weeks before Congressman Castle joined Van Hollen in espousing the virtues of the bill in the Washington Post. Amendments offered by some representatives that would have extended the prohibitions on political activity by government contractors to labor unions (currently excluded); require that itemization thresholds be set at the same amount as required for candidates and finally to make the legislation effective on Jan. 1, 2011 were all rejected prior to Castle's joint statement. According to the Politico, Van Hollen has said impacting 2010 is the goal,
"Van Hollen has said he’s hopeful the bill could be implemented in time to
affect newly legal ad spending in 2010 congressional races"

So why is Mike Castle now turning against the bill? Some supporters of the Congressman who is seeking to become the next Senator from Delaware claim that his support hinges on the exemptions, Congressman Van Hollen noted that the op-ed published in the Washington Post referenced above was done so AFTER the NRA deal (which "would exempt longstanding groups if they have more than 1 million members and received less than 15 percent of their funding from corporations) was announced. Mike Castle has an F-rating from the NRA and while some pundits may assume that it was the groups like the Sierra Club and the Brady Center for Gun Violence who caused Castle to rethink his support for the bill my guess is that this is little more than finger in the wind during the campaign political spin. Spokeswoman Kate Dickens told The Hill that
“This is a slippery slope,” she said. “It’s just disclosure, for God’s sake …
now you’re just handing talking points to those who oppose the bill.”

Mr. Castle, these changes were already in the bill when you last told us you were for it. With your VAST "experience" in D.C. did you think you could pass a bill as written? If so it shows that you are completely out of touch with not just your voters and the culture in D.C. but with reality itself. You HAD to know that the liberal Democrats, who rely on Union money to get reelected would fight tooth and nail to exclude them. In fact you knew they would because the markup hearing on May 20th was 3 weeks before you defended the bill in the Washington Post. Which is it Congressman? Are you for the legislation or against it?

Mike Castle's opponent, Christine O'Donnell has called the bill a "grassroots gag order" and a "Power-player Protection Act" since day one. In an email blast to supporters Christine said that Castle's reversal on his own bill is,

"Shades of John Kerry’s “I voted for it . . . before I voted against it.” Does
the phrase flip-flopping come to mind?"

So, Congressman Castle, how can we trust you with becoming "Senator Castle" when you don't even appear to understand the process of passing legislation that impacts the freedom of speech of tens of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Delawareans? Also, why is it that you were totally OK with the legislation as amended with the NRA deal in place as late as June 17th but 4 days later after public opinion began to turn on the bill (which YOU helped write) you're going to vote against it? Are you lacking the courage of your convictions? You certainly had no problem "voting your conscience" in 2009 when you voted FOR the Cap and Trade bill. Then again, you weren't in an election in 2009 were you?

1 comment:

  1. Well Mike Castle did it again. He authored and voted FOR the conservative grassroots gag order bill. Talk about stifling the First Amendment.