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House Leaders Strike Deal With NRA

House Democratic leaders have brokered a deal to exempt the National Rifle Association from legislation to counteract a controversial Supreme Court decision relaxing campaign finance rules.

The compromise marks a major breakthrough for the bill, because the gun lobby’s opposition was hamstringing Democratic efforts to round up majority support. But other heavyweight political groups important to endangered Democrats remained opposed — namely, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Right to Life Committee.

And powerhouse liberal groups such as the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club have yet to sign off, pending fixes they said they are still negotiating with leaders.

Taken together, the disposition of those groups — from lukewarm to outright hostile — presents a stiff challenge to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her team as they try to forge ahead with the campaign finance measure.

“The changes will ultimately get this through to the finish line, but we’re not there yet,” one senior Democratic aide said. “We have to cross a couple more T’s and dot some more I’s before anybody is going to pop champagne corks.”

The bill, officially the DISCLOSE Act, comes in response to the high court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in January that struck down many restrictions on political communications and the groups that fund them. The proposal would bulk up disclosure, political coordination and disclaimer requirements, and impose new limits on political involvement by government contractors and foreign governments.

A key question for leaders is whether the objections from the Chamber of Commerce, the Right to Life Committee and other largely Republican-friendly groups will spook a sufficient number of centrist Democrats to keep the measure from moving forward.

A chamber representative said the business lobby is intensifying grass-roots and lobbying efforts to sink the package — including making the point to Democratic fence-sitters that the vote will factor into the group’s decision-making about how it deploys campaign resources.

And the Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion-rights nonprofit group, on Monday sent an action alert to its members asking them to register their objections with their lawmakers. Douglas Johnson, the NRLC’s legislative director, said the group’s opposition to the bill has now taken precedence over its opposition to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

The American Society of Association Executives — the trade group representing trade groups — jumped into the fray Monday as well. ASAE President John Graham wrote to House Members outlining four pieces of the bill “that could impede upon the First Amendment rights of private associations.

Important forces on the left remain wary as well. Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s top lobbyist, said the labor union “still has a few outstanding issues” relating to the effect of the bill on its local unions and labor councils. “The effect is pretty far-reaching, and I’m not sure it was intended to be far-reaching,” Samuel said.

“We support the thrust of the bill, the goals of the bill, and we hope to be able to support it,” he said, adding the labor giant has “made progress” in talks with House Democratic leaders.

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