Opponents of campaign finance bill say it presents pro-life, religious liberty concerns

By Kate Scanlon for CNA

Credit: Joaquin Corbalan P/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A campaign finance bill under consideration in the House could present grave concerns for religious liberty, an opponent of the bill told CNA.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the For the People Act of 2021 (H.R. 1), alongside Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), saying the bill is necessary because the state of American democracy is in “deep disrepair.”

But some opponents of the bill–including pro-life groups–have warned of First Amendment implications to religious freedom and free speech.

Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, told CNA in an interview that he considers the For the People Act of 2021 the worst bill he’s seen in his 20 years in Washington.

“It’s filled with so many unconstitutional provisions,” he said. “I think it would change the face of American politics.” He said it could even impose a religious test on people seeking to serve on redistricting commissions.

Among the bill’s provisions is one that would take away the power to draw congressional districts from state legislatures and grant it instead to “independent redistricting commissions.” In order to serve on such a commission, an individual would need to meet certain criteria, including disclosing “any involvement with, or financial support of, professional, social, political, religious, or community organizations or causes.”

That language could amount to the implementation of a religious test, von Spakovsky said.

“It’s very concerning that to get on a commission like this you have to disclose which church, which religion, you’re a member of,” he said, adding “it would discourage individuals from participating.”

Pro-life groups have come out in opposition to the bill as well. March for Life Action shared its concerns about the legislation to CNA in January, that pro-life donors could be subject to unnecessary public harassment.

The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) said in a letter to members of Congress that the legislation would put “onerous and unworkable regulatory standards on the ability of pro-life voters and the pro-life community to discuss policy issues with elected officials and the public.”

“It would subject citizens who contribute to nonprofit organizations to harassment and intimidation by making their personal information available in a government-controlled data base, and through an expansion of the definition of ‘electioneering communications’ it would subject virtually all issue-related ads to burdensome disclaimer requirements,” SBA List said.

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, warned that the bill “would allow lawmakers to employ the threat of criminal sanctions to reduce the amount of private speech regarding the actions of the lawmakers themselves.”

The White House supports the legislation, with President Biden issuing a statement Monday saying that his administration “supports House passage of H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021.”

“In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy,” the statement said.

The statement added that as with any bill “of this scope and complexity,” it intends to work with Congress “to refine provisions of H.R. 1 as it proceeds through the legislative process to ensure that the bill achieves lasting reform consistent with Congress’ broad constitutional authority to strengthen our democracy.”

The ACLU opposed a 2019 version of the bill and has criticized portions of the 2021 bill, but has not formally opposed the latest version.

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