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Liberal Groups Oppose NRA Exemption in DISCLOSE Act

The Alliance for Justice has delivered a letter to Nancy Pelosi with 45 progressive organizations as co-signers, objecting to the narrow exemption cut mainly for the benefit of the NRA in the DISCLOSE Act, the campaign finance and disclosure fix to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, progressive groups like CREDO and Media Matters Action Network and gun control advocates like New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign all joined on the letter, which strongly objects to the language forced into the bill by the NRA.

It is inappropriate and inequitable to create a two-tiered system of campaign finance laws
and First Amendment protections, one for the most powerful and influential and another
for everyone else. There is no legitimate justification for privileging the speech of one
entity over another, or of reducing the burdens of compliance for the biggest organization
yet retaining them for the smallest.

We urge you in the strongest possible terms to work with the sponsors to remove the
offending language and restore the integrity of the bill so we can continue to participate
in efforts to craft legislation that achieves the goal we all share to undo the damage of
Citizens United and restore the integrity of our democratic system. In its current form,
however, we have no choice but to oppose the passage of the DISCLOSE Act.

It remains to be seen whether any of these groups, or all of them put together, hold the same “veto power in the House of Representatives,” which Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 claimed the NRA did.

There is also a lot of opposition to this bill from the right. The Chamber of Commerce joined 200 business groups in writing a letter today, rejecting the DISCLOSE Act and urging a no vote.

The bill would force donor disclosure on corporations and organizations who spend on elections (that’s the part NRA and possibly AARP and the Humane Society will get exempted from), as well as disclosure of the spending of campaign money and a “stand by your message” from the CEO or the leading donor on every campaign ad. In addition, the DISCLOSE Act would bar any company receiving government contracts from campaign spending, as well as any foreign entity or foreign subsidiary of a corporation. Those two major provisions – hundreds if not thousands of corporations have contracts with the government – are untouched by the NRA exemption.

Chris Van Hollen, who is shepherding through the measure, did not seem fazed by the liberal opposition. A spokesman made the following statement: “will increase transparency and disclosure, and ensure the American people know who is spending money on elections. It’s the public’s best defense against a takeover of our elections and democracy by powerful special interests.”

UPDATE: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington did come out in favor of the DISCLOSE Act today.

UPDATE: The House could go to the floor with this as soon as today, but they are working to contain the fallout from the bill. In addition to some liberals opposing the NRA exemption, anti-abortion Democrats may vote against the bill, presumably because it doesn’t contain the same exemption for the National Right to Life Committee. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) has vowed to vote against the bill for that reason.

UPDATE II: The vote is now set for Friday. Apparently the exemption has been dropped to include groups with that have been around for at least 10 years and have 500,000 members or more, down from 1 million. This would broaden the exemption beyond the NRA.

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David Dayen

David Dayen