The decision by sponsors of campaign finance reform legislation to carve out exemptions for certain interest groups, especially the National Rifle Association, has prompted a backlash among some liberal advocacy groups, but several good government advocates say they’re still supporting it.
“The inequitable treatment poses an unsatisfactory solution,” said Nan Aron, head of the Alliance for Justice, which released a letter opposing the bill with the exemptions from disclosure requirements. The letter was signed by a host of other groups, including the League of Conservation Voters and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Aron suggested that groups opposed to the modified DISCLOSE Act might find an alternative bill to back, saying that “members of the House are thinking about other versions.”
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said she is working on language that would exempt all groups with 501(c)4 tax status except those that receive more than 15 percent of their support from corporations. “It’s important for us to have a disclosure act that treats all of these entities the same,” she said.
The exemptions have thrown the future of the bill, a legislative response to the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision, into question. House leaders decided late Thursday to cancel a planned vote on the legislation today. But several good government groups said a bill that exempts all 501(c)4 groups in the way Edwards proposes would create too big a loophole, and they are still supporting the DISCLOSE Act – for now. In addition, they say the current bill represents the best chance at passing campaign finance legislation before the midterm elections.
“The legislation is so important we are willing to tolerate the narrow, limited carve-outs just to get the entire disclosure framework put into place,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, adding that the groups covered by the exemptions “are not going to serve as corporate front groups.”
Still, if a proposal such as Edwards’ is adopted, “the loophole just swallows the bill at that point,” Holman said. “We’re trying to get this current bill through and accepted and not weakened any further.”
Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, said the center also still supports the bill, though she, too, said she is concerned about any further exemptions. Left out of the discussion over what compromises are needed to pass the bill, she said, “is the American people. What do they need to know? That’s the bottom line here. Not whose ox is going to get gored?”
Melanie Sloan, head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the group is “a huge believer in campaign finance reform. We’re a huge believer in disclosure and transparency. We’re very worried about the impact of corporations in elections, the ability to potentially hijack elections. You’re never going to get everything you want.”