Angered by a concession to the National Rifle Association, liberal groups mobilized Tuesday against House legislation calling for tougher disclosure requirements on political advertising and other campaign activity.
The National Right to Life Committee also issued a fresh attack on the legislation, citing special treatment given the NRA. It is not clear what impact the developments will have on the fate of the measure, which the Democratic leadership has penciled in for a vote later this week.
The bill calls for new disclosure requirements to accompany political advertising by outside groups, which can now spend millions of dollars in campaign-altering political activity without publicly identifying their donors. Democrats agreed Monday to exempt the NRA from its provisions after concluding the gun owners' group had enough allies in the House to bring down the measure.
Reaction was swift from groups that generally support the Democratic agenda.
In a message to more than 100 member-organizations, Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, urged opposition to the legislation as it stands. She wrote that the "special carve-out" for the NRA is "undemocratic and dangerous." She sought signatures for a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "expressing our profound disappointment and anger about the special treatment provided to those least in need of special treatment."
In a telephone interview, Aron said leaders of the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence had agreed to sign the letter, with more groups expected to join them by Wednesday. Leaders of the three groups could not immediately be reached for comment.
The National Right to Life Committee, which already had announced opposition to the bill, said the NRA-related provision "adds insult to injury."
The developments came a few hours after the NRA announced it would neither support nor oppose the bill on a final vote, but would step aside and allow it to pass.
"Any efforts to silence the political speech of NRA members will, as has been the case in the past, be met with strong opposition," the organization said in a statement in which it pledged to refrain from lobbying the bill either way as long as the exemption remains part of it.
The measure requires the listing of the names of the top five donors to an organization running political ads, including unions, businesses and nonprofit organizations. It also mandates that any individual or group paying for independent campaign activities report any expenditure of $10,000 or more made in excess of 20 days before an election. Expenditures greater than $1,000 would have to be disclosed within 24 hours in the final 20 days of a campaign.
In a concession negotiated over the weekend, House Democrats agreed to an exemption from the disclosure requirements for organizations that 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 finance their campaign-related expenditures.
In addition to the NRA, other organizations meeting the same criteria would also be exempt, but Democratic officials said Tuesday they were not immediately able to name any.
The revised measure picked up the support during the day of Common Cause and other groups that have long sought greater disclosure requirements on political advertisements and other attempts to influence the outcome of political campaigns. They did so in a terse, two-sentence letter that lacked praise for the bill, suggesting underlying concerns about the NRA-related provision.
In a statement issued before the Alliance for Justice made its intentions known, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the bill's chief sponsor, said a vote was likely this week in the House, and predicted the bill would pass.
"Reform in Washington is never easy — that is why powerful special interests are mobilizing against our effort to shine a light on campaign-related spending," he said in a statement. "The vast majority of Americans on the right, left and in the center support these efforts."
Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate, but prospects there are uncertain because of strong opposition from Republicans.
The legislation is a response to a Supreme Court ruling handed down last winter that said businesses and unions could spend their own money directly on attempts to sway presidential or congressional elections. The 5-4 ruling overturned decades of precedent, and Democrats in Congress quickly announced plans to seek legislation requiring greater disclosure on the part of groups that pay for commercials and other campaign activities.
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