An updated version of a campaign finance bill written by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., preserves a controversial loophole that would exempt the National Rifle Association from tough new disclosure and speech restrictions during election cycles.
The provision, originally negotiated between the NRA and House Democrats when a similar House-passed version of the bill was being considered, is maintained in Schumer’s most recent version of his bill – a bill that attempts to undercut the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v FEC, which removed restrictions on corporate and union spending during elections.
The new bill, an updated version of Schumer’s original DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections), was introduced on the Senate floor on July 21 without being referred to committee.
On July 22, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed for cloture on the new Schumer bill, setting it up for a final vote likely on July 27. This maneuver bypasses the normal legislative process whereby new legislation is referred to the appropriate committee for consideration before the full Senate votes on it.
Schumer chairs the committee that the new DISCLOSE Act would have been referred to under the usual procedures: the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
Schumer’s committee has not taken action on the previous version of this bill (s. 3295), despite the fact that it was referred there on May 30, when it was originally introduced – the new version is a separate bill, s. 3268.
The new bill retains the primary provisions of the original CNSNews.com previously reported on – intended to discourage corporations, unions, and other advocacy groups from participating too heavily in elections by saddling them with burdensome spending restrictions and mandating lengthy disclosure statements that must be made in any political ad.
The NRA carve-out technically exempts any group that is: a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group; at least 10 years old; has at least 500,000 dues-paying members, has at least one dues-paying member in every state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico; received no more than 15 percent of its funding from corporations; and does not use any corporate-provided funds for political activity.
If the new DISCLOSE Act passes on July 27, it must be reconciled with the House-passed version because the two are not identical. The new Schumer bill removes a separate loophole designed to entice union support for the House-passed version. That provision would have exempted labor unions from restrictions on shifting money between affiliated organizations.
In the House-passed version, if unions made such transfers, they would not have to report them to the Federal Election Commission, because no matter how large, any transfer would technically count as many small contributions from each individual union member, whose dues would be the ultimate source of the funds.
By counting intra-union money transfers as individual contributions from union members, unions would avoid the requirement that transfers of more than $50,000 be reported.
The new effort by Reid and Schumer marks a last-ditch attempt to pass the campaign speech restriction before Congress adjourns for the summer. The House, which is scheduled to adjourn July 30, would have to take up the Schumer bill almost immediately if it hopes to send something to President Barack Obama before the summer break.
If the Schumer bill fails in the Senate or if the House cannot pass it in time, the new regulations are unlikely to pass this year because legislators will have little time between when they return from their summer break in September and the mid-term election in November.
Additionally, even if Congress were to pass the bill upon returning from summer breaks, the FEC would not have enough time to issue the necessary federal regulations the bill calls for before the elections.
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