Bowing to pressure from the National Rifle Association, House Democrats agreed Monday to exempt the powerful gun owners' lobby from key portions of legislation imposing new disclosure requirements on campaign advertising and other political activity.
The legislation is designed to roll back a recent Supreme Court ruling and generally requires organizations to disclose their top donors if they sponsor political television commercials or pay for mass mailings in the months leading to an election.
Democratic attempts to bring the measure to the floor faltered last month when the NRA objected, and hurried negotiations on a compromise resulted.
Under a change negotiated over the weekend, the NRA would be exempt based on its length in existence, size of membership and other factors — a concession demanded by the powerful lobby and sought by Democratic allies in the House led by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C. Other organizations meeting the same set of criteria would also be exempt, but officials said late Monday they were not immediately able to name any.
Democratic aides said the leadership hoped the revised legislation could be brought to a vote before the end of the week.
There was no immediate comment from the NRA.
The developments marked the second time the NRA has forced House Democrats to change plans on key legislation this year. In April, a bill to grant the District of Columbia full voting rights in the House was shelved after the organization demonstrated it had the votes to require the repeal of local gun control ordinances at the same time.
This time, the NRA set out its objections in a May 26 letter to members of Congress saying the initial legislation would permit the Federal Election Commission to require the NRA "to reveal private, internal discussions with our four million members about political communications."
In addition, it said the legislation laid out a series of "byzantine disclosure requirements that have the obvious effect of intimidating speech," said the letter.
The change drew a somewhat stinted expression of support from Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21 and long an influential voice in efforts to impose restrictions on the use of big money in politics. "This exemption has been deemed necessary to pass the bill, but since it is so narrow it will not open a major loophole in the legislation," the statement said.
"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."
The reference to so-called "c4" organizations is taken from the portion of the tax code that governs nonprofit social welfare groups that engage in civic activities. In addition to the NRA, the category includes the Sierra Club and the National Right to Life Committee.
Under the proposed change to the legislation non-profits would be exempt from the disclosure requirements only if they have been in existence for a decade, have at least 1 million dues-paying members and do not use any corporate or labor union money to pay for their campaign-related expenditures.
Democratic officials said unions would continue to be covered, as would the Chamber of Commerce.
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