NRA Exemption Causes Revolt Over Democratic Campaign Finance Reform Bill

By Matt Cover | June 18, 2010 | 7:11 PM EDT

( – A special deal negotiated by the National Rifle Association (NRA) that would have exempted it from a campaign finance bill written by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has caused an uproar among other special interest groups, and a revolt against the bill by liberal groups such as the ACLU and the Sierra Club.
The bill, known as the DISCLOSE Act, would require corporations to, among other things, name their top five financial contributors in any political ad they run. It would also require the CEO of that corporation to appear in the ad and to make a statement taking responsibility for its content.
As previously reported,  the act is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and in the House by Rep. Van Hollen. The deal with the NRA applied only to the House version of the bill.
The exemption was negotiated by Democratic Reps. Heath Schuler (D-N.C.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), a source on the House Administration Committee told This committee is the body responsible for federal election issues, including the DISCLOSE Act.
Dingell and Schuler negotiated the compromise with Van Hollen on behalf of the NRA, which sought to avoid having to comply with the burdensome and constitutionally questionable provisions of the act, particularly those requiring that groups name their top financial contributors in any advertisement they run.
According to news reports, and corroborated by the senior House staffer, the NRA deal infuriated groups such as the Humane Society and the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) because the terms of the deal meant that only the NRA would have been exempt.
Under pressure from these groups and others, Van Hollen broadened the exemption to include groups the size of the Humane Society and AARP, which are both national organizations but are smaller than NRA.
This compromise resulted in further opposition, this time from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Blue Dog Democrats. The CBC was angered by the fact that the carve-out would not include the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) while Blue Dogs were concerned about the impact of the bill on business groups, nearly all of which oppose the bill.
In a further sign of discontent, both the Humane Society and the AARP – in separate comments to the Washington Post  and the Huffington Post respectively – distanced themselves from the NRA deal, with each group saying they may not qualify for the exemption.
In fact, 347 groups from various points on the political spectrum have voiced their opposition to the bill. Among these groups are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Defenders of Wildlife, and the liberal Progress Now.
In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a tersely worded letter of opposition to members of Congress on June 17, saying that the bill would “significantly” harm Americans’ constitutional rights.
“[W]e believe this bill fails to improve the integrity of our campaigns in any substantial way while significantly harming the speech and associational rights of Americans,” the group wrote.
“Measures intended to root out corruption should not interfere with freedom of expression by those wishing to make their voices heard, and disclosure requirements should not have a chilling effect on the exercise of rights of expression and association, especially in the case of controversial political groups,” said the ACLU.
As a result of the furor over the NRA exemption, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were forced to cancel a planned vote on the bill last Friday, the third time the bill has been delayed. According to the Administrative Committee source, Democratic leaders had hoped to pass the bill through the House before Memorial Day – hopes that were dashed when they failed to secure enough support to guarantee passage.
The delay cast doubt on whether Democrats will ever see their campaign finance restrictions enacted, as the bill must pass both House and Senate and be signed by the president before the Federal Election Commission can write the necessary rules and regulations corporations will have to follow.
Despite the criticism from such a wide range of political groups and lawmakers, the NRA stood by its decision, saying in a June 17 statement that it “did not sell out to Nancy Pelosi,” but was merely acting in the best interest of its members and the Second Amendment.
“We didn't ‘sell out’ to Nancy Pelosi or anyone else,” reads the NRA statement.  “We told Congress we opposed the bill.  As a result, congressional leaders announced they would exempt us from its draconian restrictions on free speech. There are those who say the NRA should put the Second Amendment at risk over a First Amendment principle.  That's easy to say unless you have a sworn duty to protect the Second Amendment above all else, as we do.”