Friendly Fire: Gun Rights Advocates In Shootout Over Campaign Finance Bill

June 17, 2010 7:16 a.m.

Gun rights activists are accusing the National Rifle Association of “selling out” to Congressional Democrats over a new measure aimed at requiring more disclosure from corporations getting involved in political races. The NRA was granted an exemption from legislation that would require other groups to disclose top donors, prompting one Virginia group to accuse them of being “bought off” and 45 groups to lodge a formal protest with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Democratic leaders cut a deal with the NRA, fearing that, if they didn’t, the bill’s passage this summer would be doomed by members spooked by the potential backlash from the group, an important source of support for gun-friendly lawmakers.

The NRA now supports the so-called DISCLOSE Act, which was written by Democrats in response to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision loosening campaign finance regulations. The bill would require CEOs to stand by their ads and other transparency measures.In an email to members, the Virginia Citizens Defense League said the legislation “will gag the free speech of those who criticize members of Congress.” VCDL President Philip Van Cleave said the Virginia-based NRA had made a mistake and urged members of his smaller group to formally complain to the gun rights behemoth and write their members of Congress.

But several watchdog groups that signed the letter to Pelosi, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, reversed course today to back the measure, even with the NRA exemption. The exemption from donor disclosure would apply to any organization at least 10 years old with 1 million members or more in all 50 states that receives 15 percent or less of their funding from corporations or unions.

Van Cleave said it is ironic that if the NRA angers enough gun owners, they’d fall below 1 million members and lose the exemption. But that outcome is unlikely, given that the NRA boasts 4 million members.

From Van Cleave’s email, obtained by TPMDC:

Let me not mince words – this appears to be an unholy alliance between Nancy Pelosi and the NRA, which would wipe out the NRA’s competition.

If you snuggle up with a rattlesnake you are going to get bit. The NRA is playing a fool’s game if they think they will survive this unscathed. Nancy Pelosi is not their friend now, nor will she ever be.

For their own self-interest, the NRA is apparently choosing to drive, or at least ride in, the bus that is going to run over the rest of us.

The NRA must NOT turn a blind eye to this scheme and MUST fight it to the bitter end. Either all gun-rights organizations are protected or none are protected. We hang together or we will surely hang separately.

Erick Erickson of Red State also accused the NRA of selling out, saying that, like Van Cleave, he supports the Gun Owners of America instead. That group opposes the DISCLOSE Act, calling it a “free speech gag bill.” In a blog post this week, Erickson said he views the NRA as a “weak little girl of an organization protecting itself while throwing everyone else under the bus.”

In a statement this week, the NRA’s leadership said they would stay out of the debate as long as they remain exempted, but pledging to stand up for free speech:

The NRA cannot defend the Second Amendment from the attacks we face in the local, state, federal, international and judicial arenas without the ability to speak. We will not allow ourselves to be silenced while the national news media, politicians and others are allowed to attack us freely.

The NRA will continue to fight for its right to speak out in defense of the Second Amendment. Any efforts to silence the political speech of NRA members will, as has been the case in the past, be met with strong opposition.

Reuters reported that the AARP and the Humane Society would also qualify for the exemption. All exempted groups would still have to put their names on any campaign ads they fund.

Late Update: Huffington Post is reporting a new deal, dropping the requirement for exemption down to 500,000 dues-paying members. A Democratic leadership aide just confirmed the change to TPMDC, saying there are a number of groups that would qualify for the exemption and that leaders did not intend to offer the NRA something exclusive.

“It was in recognition there are a number of longstanding member-supported organizations that do legitimate work,” the aide said.

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