Despite NRA Exception, Campaign Watchdog Urges DISCLOSE Act Passage

Congress should approve pending campaign-finance legislation despite a new loophole designed to protect the National Rifle Association, according to a prominent Washington-based public-interest watchdog organization.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) signaled that action on the bill, known as the DISCLOSE Act, could come this week.

Democracy 21 says it continues to strongly support the DISCLOSE Act despite a proposed amendment to shield the NRA from its provisions. House leaders proposed the NRA exception as a way to convince conservative Democrats to vote for the bill.

The so-called Manager’s Amendment to the DISCLOSE Act includes a “very narrow exemption from donor disclosure for very large and long established [advocacy] organizations that only receive a small percentage of their funds from corporations and labor unions and do not use any corporate or labor union money to pay for their campaign-related expenditures,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a long-standing watchdog group that seeks to limit the impact of money in politics. “In order to qualify for the exemption, the [advocacy] organization would have to be in existence for 10 or more years and would have to have at least one million individuals who have paid dues to the organization during the previous year.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act in April as a response to the Supreme Court’s January Citizens United decision. That ruling, decided by the court’s conservative bloc, struck down decades of federal regulation limiting corporate spending to influence elections. The DISCLOSE Act is designed to at least offer a level of transparency to the influx of spending that corporations and other large interest groups are expected to undertake to influence elections, starting with the 2010 midterms.

Some interest groups have sharply criticized the House Democratic leadership for allowing an exception for the NRA, a powerful and stridently anti-gun lobby.

But Wertheimer says the NRA-based exception to be added to the DISCLOSE Act is “so narrow it will not open a major loophole in the legislation.

“Almost all c4 advocacy groups that make campaign-related expenditures will be covered by the donor disclosure provisions in the legislation, as will c4 groups formed to function as dummy or front groups or to serve as groups to make campaign-related expenditures without disclosing their donors,” he adds.

In a separate statement, Hoyer argued that Republicans should support the DISCLOSE Act.

“Republicans argued for years about the importance of transparency, so they should join with us to pass legislation that furthers that goal,” Hoyer says in a statement released Tuesday. “I know that Rep. Van Hollen is working hard so that we could consider the DISCLOSE Act on the House Floor this week.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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