June 15, 2010

They've somehow made it worse

When you have to justify these kind of exemptions, you should rethink your entire plan:

House Democrats have offered to exempt the National Rifle Association from a sweeping campaign-finance bill, removing a major obstacle in the push to roll back the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

The NRA had objected to some of the strict financial disclosure provisions that Democrats have proposed for corporations and politically active nonprofits and that had kept moderate, pro-gun Democrats from backing the legislation. ...

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. Democrats say the new language would apply to only the NRA, since no other organization would qualify under these specific provisions. The NRA, with 4 million members, will not actively oppose the DISCLOSE Act, according to Democratic sources.

This is a clear case of the government -- as my colleague Victor says -- "picking winners and losers." Large and powerful organizations will only grow more powerful as smaller organizations are hounded by new regulations. Either apply the rules to all groups or don't have the rules. Passing a law with a special exemption for a politically powerful group satisfies no one and makes a mockery of the idea.

Also note how the Democrats say the law would "apply to only the NRA." I believe they might be mistaken. What about the AARP? Wouldn't this exemption apply to them too?

Looking forward, what will Congress do in the next two, four or eight years? Will they annually update the law to exempt new organizations they feel deserve to be shielded?

While campaign disclosure laws are important, they should never be used as cover for attacking free speech rights.

Hopefully Congress can create sensible, constitutionally-sound campaign disclosure laws in the future that respect and encourage free speech while also allowing the public to stay informed.

Given their track record, I'm not optimistic.