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The Sierra Club likewise endorses the concept of the bill insofar as it is aimed at increasing transparency in campaign financing. But Cathy Duvall, the groups national political director, said the bill still falls short in distinguishing between political activities that should be subject to greater public scrutiny and legitimate lobbying activities that the bill would restrict. It would significantly impact our ability to do legitimate legislative grass-roots lobbying, and were still having conversations to see if we can support the bill, she said.
Duvall called the carve-out that leaders engineered for the NRA undemocratic. And Nan Aron, president of the left-leaning Alliance for Justice, blasted it. We cant have two tiers of free speech in this country, with one set of rules for the big guys and another for everyone else, Aron said in a statement. This outrageous attempt to garner support for the bill does nothing more than make the already powerful even more powerful and undermines both the stated purpose of the legislation and fundamental Constitutional principles.
Under the deal, the NRA would be exempt from the disclosure requirements that the groups officials complained would force them to make their membership lists public. The text of the amendment making the change never mentions the NRA specifically. Instead, it grants an exception to any 501(c)(4) group that claims more than 1 million dues-paying members, with a presence in all U.S. states, that has existed for at least 10 years, and derives no more than 15 percent of its funding from corporate or union sources.
It is not clear which, if any, organizations besides the NRA meet those standards. The Sierra Club, for example, claims about 750,000 dues-paying members. And the NRLC is a federation of 50 state-level groups, each of which is incorporated separately, and none of which has membership approaching 1 million.
In crafting the compromise, Democratic leadership, led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the architect of the bill, tried to steer a middle course between accommodating the NRA, which could single-handedly tank the package, and government-reform groups that wanted the narrowest exemption possible.
Reforming the system is something that Washington tends to resist, and we did the best we could here, one Democratic aide said. Its about as far as it can go in terms of changes that address a significant number of folks, maintain the support of the reform community and have some teeth.
An NRA spokesman declined to comment, pending the public posting of the amendment package that includes its fix. But Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer blessed the deal. This exemption has been deemed necessary to pass the bill, but since it is so narrow it will not open a major loophole in the legislation, he said in a statement.
At least one group was considerably less supportive.
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, Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement.
Democratic leadership sources said the measure could hit the floor as soon as this week. That will depend on whether leaders believe they have the votes to pass it.