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They can pry the NRA's donor list from its cold, dead hands

Quick back story: A few months back, the Supreme Court hands down the Citizens United case, which gives corporations the right to spend as much as they want, at any point they want, in elections. In an effort to blunt the impact of that ruling, House Democrats developed the DISCLOSE Act, which would use transparency to combat money. Under the terms of the law, corporate CEOs would have to appear in their ads, and shell organizations would have to identify their top five donors on screen. There would also be an unprecedented amount of donor transparency.

Of course, some organizations don't like this. And one of them, the National Rifle Association, is powerful enough to do something about it. They've demanded an exemption from the bill, and they've gotten one. "The proposal would exempt organizations that have more than 1 million members, have been in existence for more than 10 years, have members in all 50 states and raise 15 percent or less of their funds from corporations," reports John Bresnahan. The NRA is the only organization that meets the criteria.

Though experiment: If Democrats wrote this bill and created an exemption that only applied to the AFL-CIO, how would that play in the media? And why would it be substantively any different?

By Ezra Klein  |  June 15, 2010; 9:40 AM ET
 
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Comments

"Though experiment: If Democrats wrote this bill and created an exemption that only applied to the AFL-CIO, how would that play in the media? And why would it be substantively any different?"

The apples-to-apples comparison would be if the Republican's wrote DISCLOSE and included an exemption that only applied to the AFL-CIO. How would that play in the media? Probably pretty well. How would that play with the base? Kick the bums out.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 15, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

"Though experiment: If Democrats wrote this bill and created an exemption that only applied to the AFL-CIO, how would that play in the media? And why would it be substantively any different?"

The reaction from the media would be scathing, because the media like nothing better than brain-dead, cliched stereotypes. It wouldn't be substantially any different.

Posted by: pneogy | June 15, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Now I'm interested in how much the NRA gives to Dems. I assumed that there were a few Blue Dogs/Ben Nelsons that got money, but that they had relatively little influence in the party. Anybody want to enlighten me?

And Kevin's right, the proper comparison for the media is if the Republicans were exempting a traditional Democratic ally, but that's not where we should be looking. We should be asking ourselves how the base and other liberal activist groups should be reacting to this. My humble suggestion: with volcanic fury.

As a side note, can someone clarify for me whether the term "Blue Dogs" refers to all conservative elected officials? I'm pretty sure I've seen it used that way before, and frankly I think that makes sense, but for some reason I always thought it specifically referred to conservative Dems in the House.

Posted by: MosBen | June 15, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Corporations AND UNIONS can spend as much as they please. Small omission there.

Posted by: theo2709 | June 15, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Interesting exemption, to be sure.

It's difficult to forget, though, that the ACLU and most other civil rights groups strongly favored (and favor) the position taken in Citizens United: the bad statute (including its bad exemption) now before the House results from an effort to do something which probably ought not be done in the first place. A similar example of doing that which probably ought not be done was reported yesterday at http://washingtonindependent.com/86899/the-return-of-debtors-prisons

Some states still allow courts to issue a writ of //capias ad satisfaciendum// (as an example, see the 1997 paper from New Jersey at http://www.lawrev.state.nj.us/rpts/civarr.doc) but it's interesting to note that states which have prohibited such writs via statues are, at present, liquid. That is, in states where financial responsibility is commonplace both in individual transactions and at the government level, there is no need for such debtor's writs; conversely, states which spend liberally find it prudent to incarcerate non-payers.

My point is that illiberal behavior often results in additional, responsive illiberal behavior. Returning to the original topic, a statute having the intent to limit freedom of speech is met with an exemption limiting the freedom of speech of everyone except a group powerful enough to "take on" the regulators.

Posted by: rmgregory | June 15, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

The point is, the bill no longer provides transparency. Any exemption opens a door for more organizations to qualify under that exemption over time.

Posted by: MsJS | June 15, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

not sure if you're making a point or not. as it is now the Dems wrote a bill and created an exemption that only applies (helps?) the NRA. breaking it down; Dems-Liberal leaning, NRA - considered to be "conservative" = Liberals helping Conservatives.
now you're right that most will not comment on this because of who wrote the bill and who it helps. however, if the Republicans wrote this bill and it created the same exemption for the NRA there would be a lot of press made about it. and the same would be true if, like in your scenario, the Democrats created and exemption for the AFL-CIO.
this would be much different and there would be huge public/press outcry. the reason is in our political system of "us vs. them" or "D vs. R" one side will always cry & complain when the other side introduces bills that hurt them but help the other.
scenario: D writes law, helps D's hurts R's. R's cry and complain. and vice versa. but, as in this case, D writes law, helps R's. no one complains. although i'm sure there is some snickering going on behind closed doors about this.

Posted by: badjuju | June 15, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I'm a member of the NRA and it is simply none of anyones elses business to know that.

I certainly don't want anti-second amendment nuts to be publishing my name and address on the Web.

One big difference between being a member of the NRA and AFL-CIO is that I can quit my NRA membership and stop paying dues but I can't quit my union membership and stop paying dues... unless I want to join the unemployed.

Union membership is MANDATORY if you want to work in a unionized industry. And you are FORCED to support candidates and legislation that you may be strongly opposed to.

Posted by: Davidsonville | June 15, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Well, theo2709, you're right. Still, I, and I think Ezra and most liberals who care about election reform, don't think it's a good thing that either corporations *or* unions can spend unlimited funds under Citizen's United.

Posted by: MosBen | June 15, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

It's none of your business, Klein, how other people spend their own money.

Posted by: msoja | June 15, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

You mean like when the Democrats created a special carve-out of the gold-plated health plan tax? Or when the Democrats handed over enormous ownership shares of General Motors and Chrysler to unions while simultaneously screwing over many of the senior bond holders?

In the former case, the Democrats got a lot of flak from the media and the public at large. In the latter case, not quite as much. No matter the circumstances, these carve-outs are the very definition of bad optics and they deserve any blowback they get.

Posted by: MDA123 | June 15, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I think it's sufficient to simply disclose that the NRA paid for the ad. That's good enough to know who is behind it.

Regardless, if Americans are so intellectually weak that political ads determine who is elected, then we have no business maintaining a republic.

All in all, I think the cures for money in politics have proven to be worse than the disease. I'd be willing to try a complete suspension of all campaign finance laws for the next election and see if things work out any better (i.e. you can give as much as you want to whomever you want and they can spend it however they want).

Posted by: jnc4p | June 15, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

"Though experiment: If Democrats wrote this bill and created an exemption that only applied to the AFL-CIO, how would that play in the media? And why would it be substantively any different?"

Mr. Klein, that is the cross you all in Media will carry, that has nothing to do with us.

My comments here are:

1. If Dem bills exclude NRA, base must reject that. Obama needs to veto that bill. Any exemption is useless in this case and this is totally counter productive and unacceptable.

2. How hard will it be for MoveOnOrg and other Left Organization to qualify all conditions used to exclude NRA? It is very difficult to believe that mobilized based will not ever 'craft' such shell organization as needed.

I am no legal guy but fail to understand 'brains' of Supreme court folks who want to regard 'corporations' in any sense as 'people'. Bill of rights, various freedoms and corresponding responsibilities; all those are meant for an individual. The business of state is business of 'people'. Trying to find spurious arguments to treat 'non-people' entities on the same footings as 'people' is fundamentally wrong, philosophically incorrect.

We need to understand that Chief Justice Roberts is the liar. He talked being 'not activists' at the hearing time; but that is what - activists - he is exactly. With another Arizona campaign finance verdict, it is clear that Roberts court is out to destroy the entire framework of 'campaign finance'. Left unchecked, Roberts court represents unprecedented systematic risk to American System.

Our politicians are completely incapable of changing justice system like fixed term Supreme Court judges and so on. With Egan nomination, Obama has shown that he wants to be 'half smart' and does not want to quit his games too. (He could have had more broadly, politically acceptable candidate than her.)

So in short, nothing new - this Union is screwed up.

Posted by: umesh409 | June 15, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

"Though experiment: If Democrats wrote this bill and created an exemption that only applied to the AFL-CIO, how would that play in the media? And why would it be substantively any different?"

It's substantively different because the NRA takes positions in fewer policy arenas. Gun control/gun rights is an important domestic policy area, but not nearly as important as the general economic issues ranging from labor policy to healthcare, entitlements and trade, that AFL-CIO influences.

For a less substantive, but more narrative-driven answer, elite American opinion-makers accept the NRA's claims that it stands for "traditional American values." These same opinion-makers are generally opposed to labor's agenda.

Posted by: Omnivore1 | June 15, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Some conservatives not happy with NRA making a deal on DISCLOSE:

http://tinyurl.com/2vc8vfy

The link is National Review, btw, which has crazy long URLs, for some reason.

"This exemption will not apply to small, less powerful 501(c)(4) organizations, which will be hit the hardest by the onerous, burdensome, and expensive disclosure requirements of the DISCLOSE Act, but it will apply to the large, well-funded and well-connected NRA . . . the NRA may end up providing the lobbying grease that allows this noxious and partisan piece of legislation to slide through the House, something that I seriously doubt most of the individual members of the NRA . . . would agree with."

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 15, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

The media wont scandalize anything that helps them make money. Citizens United will make them even richer. Everything else is fair game.

What we need is an amendment that explicitly says that businesses are not people. It is obvious with this new sell-out that nothing is going to change anytime soon.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 15, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

--"What we need is an amendment that explicitly says that businesses are not people."--

The relentless lurch to such stupidity is inevitable once one claims the mantle of despotism in disposing of other people's assets in the name of the common good.

Posted by: msoja | June 15, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Well, the Democrats just yesterday released the preliminary regulations on grandfathering for health insurance plans, and included a special exemption just for unions. We haven't heard peep about it in the media, so I guess you have your answer.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 15, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

The NRA exception can potentially become a nice big loop-hole for other wingnut funders to drive their issue ads through.

Way to go Blue Ball Dems!

Posted by: JPRS | June 15, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

msoja, presumably you support the establishment of a military, the interstate highway system, courts to enforce patents, contracts and such, and other government acts "for the common good". Don't come in here and spout off cute sayings if you don't really believe in them. On the other hand, if you really do think there should be no government action taken for the common good, you should be upfront about wanting to dismantle *all* the things the government does for the common good.

Posted by: MosBen | June 15, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"Corporations AND UNIONS can spend as much as they please. Small omission there.

Posted by: theo2709"

Yeah.
Like unions have any money.
Pfeh.

Posted by: adamiani | June 15, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

It's worth adding that the Constitution itself contains those bits about "the common defense" and "general welfare".

The Constitution's drafters were also versed in Enlightenment social contract theory which broadly defined notions of "the common good".

There's also that Communist tract by Adam Smith known as "the Wealth of Nations" which talks about the value of redistributive taxation for the benefit of the less privileged. Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson read the text, much to their detriment.

Posted by: JPRS | June 15, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't this raise a First Amendment issue? It seems that, in relation to legislation affecting political speech, the government is drawing distinctions based on the speaker = content of the speech. Hard to argue that this is a permissible time, place, manner regulation.

Posted by: Craig643 | June 15, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

JPRS, all good a factual points.

Posted by: MosBen | June 15, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I am sick and tired of the NRA. As a wealthy organization, they feel entitled to push/force elected officials to support their efforts. We need GUN CONTROL!

Posted by: Keith30 | June 15, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I hope that one day the NRA is "cold and dead."

Then our country will be "warm and alive."

Posted by: janye1 | June 15, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

--msoja, presumably you support the establishment of a military, the interstate highway system, courts to enforce patents, contracts and such, and other government acts "for the common good".--

I wouldn't presume to force *you* to pay for such things against your will, is the issue.

Posted by: msoja | June 15, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

You are upset because the NRA might get some of the exemptions to spend money given freely by US citizens as the SEIU/autoworkers/AFL-CIO et. al. get for spending the money they extort from unwilling workers!!

Claude Rains was never more paraphrase...able

I am shocked, shocked I say that there is duplicity, hypocrisy and false reporting in the schlock media.

Posted by: DrMysterious | June 15, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Back in the 60s, it was found to be a gross violation of civil rights when the state of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to disclose its membership lists. It's interesting to see which side of that fight Ezra would have been on.

Posted by: tomtildrum | June 15, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

The NRA isn't the only group that would meet that criteria. There are professional societies and trade associations that would meet that criteria as well.

Posted by: danielle514 | June 15, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

msoja, ok, so you want a military based on the voluntary charity of the citizens and not funded through mandatory taxes. You're honest, I'll give you that. It'd be a complete disaster, and our military would be in shambles, but I really do appreciate your honesty.

Posted by: MosBen | June 15, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

If the NRA gets less than 15% of its funds from corporations, where does the rest come from? Did it really become one of the richest and most powerful organizations in the country from members' dues?

Posted by: qalice1 | June 15, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Though experiment: If Democrats wrote this bill and created an exemption that only applied to the AFL-CIO, how would that play in the media? And why would it be substantively any different?

---------------------------

actually that's wrong. What would be the same is IF the Republicans were in the majority and ran a bill that was exempting the AFL-CIO. This is different.


Posted by: visionbrkr | June 15, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Yeah.
Like unions have any money.
Pfeh.

Posted by: adamiani | June 15, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse


REALLY? adamiani you didn't just type that did you? Ever heard of the NJEA?

They take in over $100 MILLION annually in dues. Sure they're poor.

Posted by: visionbrkr | June 15, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

REALLY? adamiani you didn't just type that did you? Ever heard of the NJEA?

They take in over $100 MILLION annually in dues. Sure they're poor.

Posted by: visionbrkr | June 15, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I think adamiani meant comparatively poor. Ever heard of Bank of America? They take in over $100 BILLION annually. Suddenly that $100 million doesn't sound so impressive.

Posted by: paul5280 | June 15, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it would matter if it is the AFL-CIO or the NRA. Either way we must stop this from occurring. It is an extreme breach of trust and the democratic system.

Here is an interesting link about the issue:
https://www.progressivefuture.org/blog/nra-shoots-loophole-through-campaign-finance-proposal

Posted by: fantora | June 16, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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