After NRA Deal, Dems' Campaign Finance Bill Stalls

Should the influential group be exempt from a disclosure rule?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Legislation requiring greater disclosure for corporations and non-profits paying for campaign advertising hit a serious speedbump earlier this week. The problem was the NRA. "In a deal," writes The New York Times' Carl Hulse, "that left even architects of the legislation squirming with unease," the Democratic proponents agreed to make an exception for the National Rifle Association ("one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington," Hulse adds). Liberals howled at the special treatment, and legislators responded by giving more special interest groups exceptions, letting in, for example, the Sierra Club.

No deal--former supporters are still balking. As a result, the vote on the bill has been postponed.

  • This Will Be a Tough Fight  "Given the nearly unanimous opposition from the right on the bill," writes Suzy Khimm at Mother Jones, "the Democrats will need all the friends they can get if the bill stands a chance. And it will be interesting to see if President Obama himself ends up making a strong case for the legislation. Only a few weeks ago, Obama was publicly railing against Citizens United and arguing for the need for campaign finance reform. But that was before BP's big oily mess had engulfed his presidency."
  • Sierra Club Against the NRA Exception--and the Sierra Club Exemption  Think Progress reproduces a statement from the Sierra Club on the matter. "[Democrats] are saying they're going to lower the threshold for the NRA carve-out ... While that would mean the Sierra Club would now qualify, we remain opposed. Many of our allies would experience the additional disclosure burdens that we would not, we feel a two-tiered system is unfair and undemocratic."
  • NRA Supporters Upset, Too  Cleta Mitchell at The Miami Herald, who serves on the NRA board of directors, calls the exemption "cynical" and says the purpose of the entire piece of legislation is really "to silence congressional critics in the 2010 elections." Mitchell's explanation of why the exemption shows how this bill erodes free speech:
For its part, the NRA ...  rather than holding steadfastly to its historic principles of defending the Constitution and continuing its noble fight against government regulation of political speech instead opted for a political deal borne of self-interest in exchange for "neutrality'' from the legislation's requirements. In doing so, the NRA has, sadly, affirmed the notion held by congressional Democrats (and some Republicans), liberal activists, the media establishment and, at least for now, a minority on the Supreme Court that First Amendment protections are subject to negotiation ... The NRA's wheel-squeaking bought it an exemption from those requirements. Tea Party organizations arising spontaneously since 2009? Out of luck ... This is not just "disclosure." It is a scheme hatched by political insiders to eradicate disfavored speech. There is no room under the First Amendment for Congress to make deals on political speech, whether with the NRA or anyone else.
  • Why I'm Against the Whole Bill  William McGinley, counsel at Patton Boggs, says at an event put together by the libertarian CATO Institute that the disclosure bill is "a severe infringement on the freedom of association. It will chill speech." He thinks organizations that care about issues rather than candidates will choose not to speak out because "their advocacy will be diminished, they will no longer be effective ... "
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.