Dems face backlash from liberal groups over NRA deal

House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the National Rifle Association that was added to a campaign finance bill.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and the Sierra Club have told The Hill they will now oppose the Disclose Act, which Democrats are pushing as a response to the Supreme Court decision earlier this year that overturned limits on corporate and union contributions to political campaigns.

The opposition comes after Democrats agreed to a provision that would exempt the NRA and a few other large organizations from disclosure requirements that are central to the bill.

The decision by U.S. PIRG is significant because the group has been heavily involved in crafting the legislation. PIRG research advocate Lisa Gilbert emphasized that the group supports the goals of the legislation but that the carve-out for the NRA was simply too big a compromise.

“It’s a sea change, and we hope that we’ll be able to remove this exemption and support the bill,” Gilbert said.

A spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the chief sponsor of the legislation, defended the bill. 

"The bill that will be voted on on the House floor will increase transparency and disclosure and ensure the American people know who is spending money on elections," his spokesman, Doug Thornell, said. He cited the five influential government reform groups who were supporting the bill with the NRA exemption included as evidence of the legislation's credibility.

Common Cause, Public Citizen, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, and the Campaign Legal Center are all supporting the bill.

The NRA on Tuesday confirmed it would stand down from lobbying against the bill because of the exemption. In a statement, the group said it that as long as the provisions remains intact, the NRA "will not be involved in final consideration of the House bill."

The Sierra Club, a leading environmental advocacy organization, had not taken a position on the Disclose Act before the NRA exemption was added. A spokesman, David Willett, said the group had concerns both with that provision and others that he said might limit the Club’s non-electoral grassroots activities.

“We are supportive of the underlying goals,” he said.

Democratic leaders hope to take up the legislation this week, but House progressives have yet to sign on to the amended bill. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Right to Life Committee have also come out against the bill.

The NRA carve-out, negotiated by gun rights supporters in Congress, would exempt organizations that have more than 1 million members, have existed for more than 10 years and raise a maximum of 15 percent of their contributions from corporations.