Here’s a 6 line defense against political evil

March 17, 2021

You’ll want a 6 line defense against a bad bill

First I’ll tell you the problem. It may scare you. Then I’ll tell you the solution. Here we go…

For the politicians

The “For the People Act” is a 791-page bill. It passed the House on a partisan vote – 220 to 210. But the bill is falsely named. It’s really the “For the Politicians Act.”

This bill is an incumbent protection law. Under its provisions…

Any citizens who dare to spend money to mention any federal office holder or candidate within 30-days of a primary or 60-days of a general election must publicly disclose all of their donors. Even blog posts on a website could trigger this requirement.

Please realize the impact this will have…

  • Some organizations might never be launched. Smaller groups may close. Perhaps they won’t be able to afford the cost of the filings. Maybe the disclosure requirement scares away their donors.
  • Controversial causes may lose financial support from risk-averse wealthy funders who fear public criticism or legislative backlash against their financial interests. We know from history that groups that promote minority viewpoints experience intimidation. We make this very point and provide examples in our AFPF & Thomas More v. Becerra amicus brief!

Dissent will wither. Minority viewpoints will be suppressed. Meanwhile…

  • Wealthy-donors who seek government favors will continue to fund incumbent candidates and establishment views.
  • Big organizations and popular opinions will function without reduced competition or criticism.
  • Incumbents will legislate without fear of electoral defeat.

So what can we do about this? We think we can develop a system of defense-in-depth against this kind of legislation. We’ll use this bill as a case study

The first line of defense

The filibuster rule could prevent the Senate from passing the “For the People Act.” The Democrats have 50 votes, plus a tie-breaker. They will need 60 votes to hold a vote under the filibuster rule. Republicans are unlikely to give them the remaining support they need. However…

The Senate Majority leader could decide to combine the bill with some item of legislation Republicans fear to oppose, such as a defense bill of some kind. Which brings us to…

The second line of defense

Our One Subject at a Time Act would prevent that clustering. It would also make the “For the People Act” vulnerable in court because of its vague, propagandistic title. But…

Even the One Subject at a Time Act might not have stopped this bill. Remember, the so-called “For the People Act” passed as a stand-alone measure in the House. This is why the Read the Bills Act is also important.

The third line of defense

The Read the Bills Act would have forced the House to read all 791 pages. But wait, that just happened with the thousand-page covid relief bill. Bill-reading didn’t stop that monster from passing. They just had clerks read it in the dead-of-night. Well…

That’s where our quorum requirement comes in.

The fourth line of defense

How many House members loved the “For the People Act” enough to sit-still for a ten-hour reading? The quorum reading requirement might have killed this terrible legislation before a vote was even held.

But we haven’t yet passed either the One Subject at a Time Act or the Read the Bills Act. And the filibuster rule may not save us. So what do we do if this evil legislation passes the Senate?

The fifth line of defense

It’s possible that our constitutional system of checks-and-balances could still ride to the rescue. Two constitutional provisions are key…

  • The First Amendment protects a freedom of the PRESS.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment requires equal treatment under the law

We haven’t read the full 791-page “For the People Act,” but these kinds of bills always exempt the institutional press. The New York Times will not have to publicly disclose its shareholders and subscribers while mentioning a political candidate a few weeks before the election.

That means the “For the People Act” violates both the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment. It confers a freedom of the PRESS protection to the New York Times while denying that same protection to a group like Agenda Setters.

We employed exactly this argument to influence the landmark Citizens United ruling. Our amicus curiae briefs were the first to apply the freedom of the PRESS to campaign finance cases. All previous cases had argued and lost based on the freedom of speech. No money is needed for speech, but money is needed to operate a press or broadcast system. So any legislation that restricts or chills funding for political expressions inherently violates your freedom of the PRESS. More specifically…

Politicians cannot require Agenda Setters to expose their funders while allowing the New York Times to avoid reporting its shareholders and subscribers.

If the Senate passes the “For the People Act” then a court challenge will surely follow. Indeed, we’ve already filed numerous briefs in a related case, AFPF & Thomas More v. Beccera. That case is now being considered by the Supreme Court. Which brings us to…

A unique number 6 line of defense

Agenda Setters by Downsize DC is also working to actualize an underutilized tool – your right to petition congress for a redress of grievances.

Most organizations take this idea too literally. They do actual petitions – long lists of names that the politicians ignore because no member of Congress can possibly vet those lists to know if the names are real or how many of them are constituents.

We tried to improve on petitions by sending messages from confirmed constituents. That was effective enough to help us get bills introduced and win co-sponsors for those bills. But we think the true power lies with in-person congressional visits. We’ve developed two powerful strategies to help realize that power… Option Activism and The 300.

This is the kind of advanced thinking you get when you support Agenda Setters. We have strategies to address every level of the problem. You can participate by supporting our efforts to…

Pass the One Subject at a Time Act

That’s not all…

As you can see above, we also file uniquely powerful, constitutional arguments in key court cases. We took a Free Press case all the way to the Supreme Court, filed briefs in nearly a dozen others over the years, and wrote an argument that helped win a landmark campaign finance case. Please contribute or start a monthly pledge to help us do more of this.

Jim Babka, President
Agenda Setters by Downsize DC

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