The National Rifle Association is drawing heat for its stance on a controversial Democrat-backed bill to rein in political spending by corporations.
The NRA is also being blamed in part for the Democratic leadership’s decision Thursday to put off a vote on the legislation.
In an opinion piece headlined “NRA’s Political Sellout,” Wall Street Journal “Potomac Watch” columnist Kimberley A. Strassel writes: “Conservatives are ripping the gun-rights group for selling out free speech, and fair enough. But don’t underestimate the political sellout. The NRA has potentially armed unions and Democrats for the midterm elections.”
At issue is the so-called Disclose Act, a response to a Supreme Court decision that came down in January allowing corporations to sponsor election-related ads. The bill would require corporations, unions and nonprofit groups to disclose their top five donors if they participate in political activity, and to agree to other disclosures related to expenditures before elections.
The NRA objected to the bill, and some Democrats were wary of crossing the powerful organization by trying to limit its campaign ads.
So supporters of the legislation added language sparing from disclosure any organization that has more than 1 million members, has members in all 50 states, and relies on corporations for 15 percent or less of its contributions — which effectively exempted the NRA. In the latest version of the bill, any organization with more than 500,000 members would be exempt.
The bill technically requires unions as well as corporations to report donors of more than $600 a year. But the average dues of the nation’s 15 largest unions were $377 in one recent year, Strassel points out.
“And while government contractors are restricted, the bill contains no such bars for unions that receive federal money or have collective bargaining agreements with government,” she observes.
The bill was designed by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with this goal: To have the legislation in place for November’s midterm elections, “when an empowered union base and a silenced corporate presence could make the difference between keeping the House and losing it” for Democrats — even if the bill is later declared unconstitutional, Strassel notes.
She adds that the NRA “can wake up each morning knowing it handed a bazooka to the unions that exist to elect Democrats who oppose everything it believes in.”
But the NRA woke up Friday morning to the news that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, who had scheduled a Friday vote on the measure, had pulled the bill Thursday night.
The deal with the NRA backfired when gun control advocates pledged to oppose the Disclose Act unless the NRA exemption was removed. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat, expressed “grave concerns with the NRA putting their fingerprint on too much of our legislation, and that is what has happened with the special carve-out.”
Politico reported: “Most problematic for the bill’s prospects: Liberal House Democrats balked at the perception that they were voting for a sweetheart deal for the NRA, regarded by many liberals as perpetuating gun violence in urban areas by opposing gun control measures.”
Conservative Blue Dog Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus were also concerned about the bill, which was opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Democratic leadership aides said a vote on the bill would be rescheduled for next week. But Politico noted that it “is still unclear” whether Pelosi and her allies will have enough votes to move forward then.
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