House Democrats’ massive voter registration and campaign procedure reform bill—H.R. 1—is the “worst” bill in decades in terms of free speech protections, according to David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech (IFS).
The controversial bill, also called the For the People Act, spans nearly 800 pages and seeks to impose federal requirements on state voting procedures across the United States. It passed the Democrat-controlled House on March 3 with a largely party-line vote of 220-210.
“This is the worst bill I’ve seen since the 1970s, in terms of any bill that had a good chance of becoming law. I mean, every bad idea about free speech practically has been put into this bill,” Keating told The Epoch Times’ American Thought Leaders program.
“It’s literally a kitchen sink of bad ideas put into one bill that will restrict our ability to speak out about government.”
The proposed legislation requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Democrats currently hold the smallest possible majority in the Senate, with 48 Democrats and two independent senators who caucus with them. It is unclear whether there would be enough support, with the bill needing 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has said he would sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.
“It says For the People Act, but I actually think a better title, a more accurate title would be For the Politicians Act, because what it does is it subsidizes the speech of people who want to run for Congress, at least the House of Representatives, and it makes it harder for everyone else to speak through setting up a maze of regulations, requiring people to fill out a blizzard of forms,” Keating said. “And that is something that I think is the big problem.”
The bill includes a wide range of reforms in how Americans register to vote and cast their ballots in federal elections, as well as who can participate and how in campaigns for president, Senate, and the House of Representatives.
Critics have argued that if the bill becomes law in its present form, it would give the federal government the power to gain control over the election process by imposing mandates on the states. They said it would eliminate basic security protocols that states have in place and interfere with the ability of states to determine the qualifications and eligibility of voters, not allow citizens to participate and speak freely in the political process, and fail to ensure the accuracy of voter registration lists.
“The bill would define any speech that’s published about a member of Congress or a candidate at any time of the year, it would suddenly define that as a campaign-related activity, as if it has something to do with their re-election,” Keating explained.
“So if we were to actually try to put out some information, whether we buy an ad, or publish something on our website, we’d find ourselves having to fill out a bunch of new forms with government,” he continued. “And if you look at the First Amendment, it says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech and many other protections as well, of course.”
Keating told The Epoch Times he believes it is a “bad idea” to regulate this sort of activity.
“For free speech … we should be able to exercise it without filling out a bunch of forms that make the tax forms look simple by comparison.”
Another cause for concern is that certain provisions of the bill could “sink” donations, lead to cancel culture, and create “enemies lists,” Keating said.
Under the Democrats’ DISCLOSE Act, organizations would be required as part of the bill to report misinformation about their contributors, he said.
“Let’s say there’s an advertisement, you have to report that advertisement … and then you have to decide, which donors are we reporting?” Keating explained. “The bill would basically say all donors over a certain dollar threshold, whether or not those donors gave for the advertisement—in fact, some of the donors may have specifically given for another program that your organization is working on—yet, they would be reported as somehow being associated with that advertisement. So that’s disinformation.
“One, it would be misleading the people reading the report. The second problem is, many of these ads would require you to list the donors on the ads themselves. So again, you’d have the same problem of donors being associated with ads that they may not have even seen or may not even agree with,” he added.
Democrats say the provision will shed light on dark money, while Republicans counter that the legislation’s transparency requirements would violate free speech rights.
Keating said that he envisions two “bad options” will come of the provision—the self censoring of adverts to remove certain names, the second being that donors may pull out if they decide they do not want their name(s) publicized, or affiliated with causes they may not support.
The IFS president also expressed concern over the “lists” that Congress members may have of people who either back or disagree with a bill.
“They’ve got a whole enemies list right there, and they or their allies can call on people to take action against these people, maybe urge them to get fired, maybe urge them to boycott businesses they work at, things of that nature, or maybe go protest outside their home,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a proper role of government to give people basically a list for people to harass or threaten just because they don’t agree with you on a particular issue.
“Unfortunately, not a single thing in this bill, I can say helps the cause of free speech.”
Masooma Haq contributed to this report.