House Passes DISCLOSE Act With NRA Exception, Sparking Outrage On Both Sides

The House narrowly approved a bill Thursday designed to lend transparency to a flood of corporate spending to influence elections expected as a result of a January Supreme Court decision, and in so doing inflamed anger on both the political Left and Right.

Members passed the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act, or DISCLOSE Act, by a vote of 219-206. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced the DISCLOSE Act in April in response to the high court’s Citizens United decision.

That ruling by the court’s conservative bloc struck down decades of regulations that limited corporate, including foreign-owned corporate, influence in American elections to allow virtually unchecked campaign spending. President Obama took the unusual step of directly criticizing a Supreme Court ruling during a State of the Union address by decrying Citizens United. Obama at that time pledged to work to find remedies to address the problems the decision could cause.

The DISCLOSE Act is intended to at least provide Americans with a window to that new corporate spending, so that it is done more openly.

Conservatives have railed against the legislation, including after Thursday’s passage. An official with one prominent social-conservative organization lambasted what he called the “onerous burdens” it places on organizations, and claims it violates First Amendment rights.

“This is a blatant attempt by the liberal-led House to mute organizations that oppose them in the upcoming election. House liberals are very aware that the DISCLOSE Act is unconstitutional and are unconcerned with that fact,” says Tom McClusky, senior vice president of FRC Action, the legislative advocacy arm of the Family Research Council.

In the process of securing the votes of enough conservative Democrats to pass the bill, however, House leaders introduced an exception to the provisions of the DISCLOSE Act essentially intended to shield the National Rifle Association (NRA) from the public disclosure.

That exemption split supporters of the DISCLOSE Act, with some blasting the exception as a “shameful” bow to the gun lobby, while others continued to urge approval for the bill saying the loophole it would create is “very narrow.”

That split was represented in the final vote on the House floor, with such formerly strong DISCLOSE Act supporters as Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) coming out against the bill.

“As an early co-sponsor of DISCLOSE, I’m dismayed that, in order to gain passage, we’ve fallen prey to bullying and threats from one of the most powerful special-interest lobbying organizations in the country,” she says. “Carving out an exception on behalf of one big group like this is just not the way to do reform. Shame on us.”

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has committed to bring up the legislation “in short order,” although Senate Democrats presumably will need to overcome a GOP filibuster.

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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