In an effort to push new campaign finance legislation through the House of Representatives, defenders of the bill are reasserting the argument that it would actually be tougher on the National Rifle Association than current law.
Since its unveiling last week, the DISCLOSE Act has received unending scrutiny for a carve-out provision inserted to earn the support (or merely quiet the opposition) of the gun lobby. Charges of NRA favoritism spurred skepticism about the bill itself, all of which compelled the authors to expand the exemption to include more organizations.
But since the DISCLOSE Act was pulled from consideration on Friday -- with progressives not fully on board -- the bill's defenders are trying a slightly different approach: touting how tough it is on all groups, including the gun lobby, as opposed to merely defending its shortcomings to the critics.
On Monday night, the office of Rep. Chris Van Hollen -- who wrote the bill -- got in touch with the Huffington Post to point out that under DISCLOSE, the NRA, like every other 501c4 organization, would be subject to two new major disclosure requirements.
The gun lobby would not be permitted to use a single corporate dollar on a campaign-related expense. More importantly, it would be forced to "stand by their ad" in a similar fashion to a candidate, with its president or executive director (most likely Wayne LaPierre) appearing in the clip.
"I think there has been a confusing impression that the NRA has been taken completely out of any disclosure and hasn't focused on the fact that it is just donor disclosure," said Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21 and one of the chief authors of DISCLOSE. "This bill has tougher requirements for the NRA than the status quo does."
The exemption granted to the NRA, as Wertheimer notes, relates to disclosing who exactly is funding the ad. The gun lobby threatened to throw its weight against the legislation if it would have been forced to file the names of its major donors with the FEC. Van Hollen's office obliged when it became clear that it lacked the votes to pass the bill if the NRA lobbied against it.
Granting the exemption is not the same as giving the NRA any additional benefits, per se. It was allowing for a continuation of the status quo. But since the vast majority of other institutions would not be allowed to operate in similar, continued secrecy, it was viewed as clear favoritism to the gun rights lobby.
Irrespective of the NRA, DISCLOSE does make several major advances on the campaign finance front that have gone relatively unnoticed. As Wertheimer noted, an organization like the Chamber of Commerce would now have to disclose who is funding the $50 million ad campaign that it will reportedly run in the 2010 elections. Karl Rove's American Action Network, which is planning a $25 million campaign effort, would have to do the same. "And they would have to put a link on the front of its webpage directly to that expenditure," Wertheimer added.
That these accomplishments have taken a backseat to the NRA's exemption is a telling illustration of just how upset many progressive and good government groups have been to see lawmakers bending legislation to a special interest. It also seems likely to be the result of the bill's negotiators not wanting to push the NRA away from the deal, a likely result if DISCLOSE's authors had begun incessantly touting how tough the legislation is on the gun lobby.