Liberals assail NRA exemption in campaign bill

By Sean Lengell, The Washington Times

Fearful their first push to counter a Supreme Court decision allowing business and union spending in political campaigns wouldn’t otherwise pass, Democrats might exempt the National Rifle Association from legislation requiring tougher disclosures of election ads.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called the NRA exemption “cynical,” but a senior Democratic aide predicted the measure would fail without the NRA’s blessing.

“This proposal is so outside the spirit of what Congress says it is trying to do that any supporter of real reform should be embarrassed to vote for it,” Mr. Helmke said. “People are already cynical about the connections between big money and Congress. Now the big guys would get to avoid the rules once again.”

The bill calls for the top five donors of outside groups be identified when they advertise in a political campaign, as well as other disclosure requirements. Democrats negotiating a final version of the bill have proposed exempting organizations that have been in existence for at least a decade, have at least a million dues-paying members and don’t use corporate or labor union money to finance their campaign-related expenditures.

A handful of organizations may qualify for the exemption, including the AARP, said a spokeswoman with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, who sponsored the bill and said it’s needed to ensure the bill’s survival.

The overhall bill “is the public’s best defense against a takeover of our elections and democracy by powerful special interests,” said Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey. “But reform in Washington is never easy, and with so much at stake, doing nothing is not an option.”

But critics say that the “NRA exemption” was drafted principally to avoid pushback from the powerful guns-rights group, whose opposition could sway some Democratic votes from the “yeah” to “nay” column.

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