House Democratic leaders voiced confidence on Wednesday that they could secure the votes to pass a campaign finance bill in the coming days, even as the legislation faced an uncertain future in the Senate.
The Democratic leadership met for more than an hour on Wednesday
with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who were concerned
about an exemption granted to the National Rifle Association to keep
the powerful gun lobby from opposing the bill. The provision would
exempt the NRA from having to disclose its donors as part of the
legislation, but it was so narrowly written that it would apply to few,
if any, other advocacy groups.
While House liberals criticized the NRA exemption, few have said
publicly they would oppose the legislation because of it. Participants
in the meeting Wednesday said that although a few lawmakers, including
Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Yvette Clarke
(D-N.Y.), voiced strong objections to the carve-out, others said it was
less of a concern and did not undermine the underlying bill.
“The real purpose of the bill is not inhibited,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said.
“The argument essentially is, look, in a perfect world you wouldn’t
do this, but that’s the price of passing it, and it’s not a terrible
The provision Democrats added would exclude organizations from
disclosing donor rolls that have more than 1 million members, have
existed for more than 10 years and receive no more than 15 percent of
their contributions from corporations.
Nadler pushed for moving ahead with the bill, calling the
legislation “absolutely essential to the continuation of American
democracy” by giving citizens more information about who was spending
money to influence elections. He and other supporters said the
exemption was less harmful because the NRA does not usually try to
disguise its influence in elections, a habit that the legislation is
principally trying to combat.
Nadler said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) vouched for the underlying
bill on the merits, citing the effectiveness of a similar law on the
books of her home state of California. As she left the meeting, Pelosi
told reporters she was not concerned about the NRA exemption.
Grijalva said he would wait to hear a response from the leadership
to his concerns before deciding how to vote on the bill. “I understand
the consequences of not doing something. We’re going to get drowned by
corporate money,” he said after the meeting.
“There are some final things that are being ironed out,” said Doug
Thornell, a spokesman for the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Chris Van
Hollen (D-Md.). “We’re pretty confident on the votes.”
Van Hollen told reporters the legislation was “in good shape.”
Democratic leaders conferred on the House floor Wednesday evening
to discuss scheduling a vote, although no decisions were announced.
A number of government reform groups, including Public Citizen and
the Campaign Legal Center, are supporting the legislation despite the
exemption for the NRA. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group,
however, split with the other organizations and said it would oppose
More opposition came on Wednesday as the Alliance for Justice
circulated a letter denouncing the NRA exemption from 45 liberal
groups, including the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood and several gun
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce passed around its own missive from 232
business groups opposing the bill as restricting the First Amendment.
Large labor unions have also yet to sign on.
For House Democrats, the most troubling statement may have come from
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sharply criticized the NRA
exemption — a signal that the Disclose Act could face difficulties in
“I strongly oppose any special exemption for the National Rifle
Association in the Disclose Act,” Feinstein said in a statement
Wednesday. “The purpose of this bill is to make sure that elected
representatives are not beholden to special interests, yet here is
special interest No. 1 receiving a deal to exempt it from an otherwise
very good bill.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is sponsoring companion legislation in
the Senate, but no Republicans have signed on, making any Democratic
Feinstein called the exemption “bad policy.” “The law should apply
to the NRA, just like any other group,” she said. “If the NRA, or any
similar group, is going to spend millions on political ads, the
American public has a right to know who is funding them. The bill is
the Disclose Act, not the ‘Everyone Except the NRA Disclose Act.’ ”
House supporters of the bill said they had received commitments from
Senate leaders to take up the legislation if it passes the House.
Molly K. Hooper contributed reporting.
This story was originally posted at 12:42 p.m. and updated at 8:16 p.m.