NRA deal exposes hypocrisy of anti-speech groups 

So-called campaign finance reform advocates lack a well-developed sense of irony.

This is evident from the recently announced deal between the congressional sponsors of the “DISCLOSE Act” and the National Rifle Association. While almost every other political group in the country will be burdened by onerous disclosure and disclaimer requirements if the DISCLOSE Act becomes law, Democrats negotiated behind closed doors with the NRA to exempt them from these intrusive mandates.

If self-styled reformers had any discernable principles beyond silencing political speakers, they might have recognized that secretly negotiating special treatment for arguably one of the nation’s most powerful and well-funded interest groups might not serve the cause of transparency or limit the influence of big-spending interest groups—goals the pro-regulation crowd supposedly supports.

In fact, at one time the NRA was Exhibit A in the “reform” argument for strict regulation of money in politics.

In 2002 Democracy21 referred to the NRA as among a group of “big users of big money in American politics to buy power and influence.” Earlier this year, the Brennan Center singled out the NRA in its testimony to Congress in support of the DISCLOSE Act, complaining that the NRA had spent $17 million in the 2008 elections and “the funders of these ads remain unknown.”

And in the 2003 amicus brief jointly filed by these two groups as well as Public Citizen and the Campaign Legal Center in defense of McCain-Feingold, the NRA and its alleged political misdeeds were cited no less than 30 times in a 76-page brief.

The backroom deal cut between the NRA and the DISCLOSE Act’s backers would allow any organization with (1) more than a million dues-paying members, (2) members in all 50 states, (3) a 10-year or more history as a tax-exempt group and (4) less than 15 percent of their funding from business corporations to be exempt from the bill’s disclosure provisions. According to media reports, only the NRA, AARP and the Humane Society qualify for this carve out.

This Shotgun Sellout of the First Amendment is only the most recent example of insider politics and passing out political favors when it comes to the DISCLOSE Act and congressional Democrats’ desperate desire to silence what they fear will be hostile political voices in the 2010 elections.

The sponsors of the DISCLOSE Act, seeking to ensure that their union allies are free to spend in support of Democratic incumbents while the business community is silenced, locked Republicans out of drafting what they claimed would be a bipartisan bill. The bill would impose a total ban on political speech by for-profit corporations that receive government contracts above a certain level, while unions and nonprofits that receive government grants are exempted.

The bill also would not put a burden on public sector unions that negotiate contracts with the government, or unions at private companies that receive government contracts. And the threshold for having to disclose membership lists of organizations would be set at $600, more than most union dues but less than most corporations pay in dues to trade and professional associations like the Chamber of Commerce.

Despite these exemptions for organized labor, they are still demanding even more favorable treatment. Negotiations behind closed doors continue between the DISCLOSE Act’s sponsors and the AFL-CIO, and more special deals for them and other powerful interest groups are likely.

If nothing else, the Shotgun Sellout and whatever additional shady deals are cut with large and influential interest groups should help to expose the DISCLOSE Act for what it really is: a partisan power-grab, part of a business-as-usual strategy by congressional Democrats to limit the voices of those they perceive as being an obstacle to retaining control of the House and Senate in 2010.

Ironically, this is what passes for “reform” in Washington, D.C.

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Sean Parnell

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