Democrats' Campaign Finance Bill Faces Hurdles House Democrats this week will take another run at passing a campaign finance bill that would lay down extensive new requirements for disclosing campaign money from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals.
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Democrats' Campaign Finance Bill Faces Hurdles

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Democrats' Campaign Finance Bill Faces Hurdles

Democrats' Campaign Finance Bill Faces Hurdles

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Here in Washington, lawmakers are trying again to regulate campaign spending. The Supreme Court overturned long-time rules that limited corporate spending in campaigns and a plan before Congress would at least try to make sure that people know what is being spent.

The so-called Disclose Act lays down extensive new requirements to identify campaign money from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. But one group would get a special exemption.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: On January 27th, in his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to move swiftly before the Supreme Court ruling loosed a flood of corporate money. But the promised flood hasn't show up yet, and neither has a bill that House Democrats can agree on.

The White House yesterday pushed harder with an official statement that it supports the bill as is.

Spokesman Bill Burton commented on the statement.

Mr. BILL BURTON (White House Spokesman): As it says, this is not a perfect bill and the president thinks that we need to work to make it as strong as humanly possible.

OVERBY: And here's what makes it less than perfect - even in the eyes of its backers. It has a special loophole for the National Rifle Association. The gun rights group with four million members didn't want to disclose its big donors, and it had been promising to take revenge on lawmakers who voted for the Disclose Act. That put fear in the hearts of conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

Fred Wertheimer, a leading advocate for the bill, said pro-disclosure groups could do the math.

Mr. FRED WERTHEIMER (Advocate for Disclose Act): We recognize, as everyone in Washington did, that either that exemption was going to be given, or the NRA was going to kill the legislation.

OVERBY: So the NRA embraced the bill and liberal groups started coming out against it.

They have the same tax-exempt status as the NRA. They're all 501-c-4 advocacy groups, and they want the same exemption from disclosure.

Ms. NAN ARON (Alliance for Justice): We all agreed with the goals of the legislation, but you can't create two tiers of speech.

OVERBY: That's Nan Aron, president of the liberal coalition Alliance for Justice, and a leader of the opposition.

She utters a sentiment more often heard from conservative groups that oppose all campaign finance bills.

Ms. ARON: It's treacherous territory, to say the least, when Congress attempts to regulate speech.

OVERBY: That's a view that finds support among liberals in Congress.

Maryland Congress woman Donna Edwards says that perhaps the Disclose Act reaches too far.

Representative DONNA EDWARDS (Democrat, Maryland): There is an urgency to try to deal with this. I happen to believe that we have miles to go before we sleep, when it comes to closing the door on corporate special interest influence in our elections, and the Disclose Act may be perhaps the first step towards that.

OVERBY: But if liberal groups are upset about the NRA, so are conservative ones.

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre says his job is protecting Second Amendment gun rights.

Mr. WAYNE LAPIERRE (NRA): We believe the Second Amendment is America's first freedom, it's the one right that protects all the rest.

OVERBY: But many other conservative groups say the NRA sold out.

Bruce Josten runs the government affairs shop at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. BRUCE JOSTEN (U.S. Chamber of Commerce): Another special deal done behind closed doors that exempts some of the most powerful political groups in America.

OVERBY: This week the Chamber put that theme into a new ad.

Meanwhile, the bill's advocates say the infighting in both camps just shows how totally the special interests look out for themselves.

Again, Fred Wertheimer...

Mr. WERTHEIMER: All of that is in direct conflict with the interests of the American people, who have a constitutional right to know who's spending money in their elections and the donors behind that money.

OVERBY: And House Democratic leaders are trying to assemble enough votes to get the bill passed with some form of the NRA exemption.

A memo circulated yesterday reminds lawmakers that the bill will target foreign corporations such as BP and financial institutions that got federal bailout funds back in 2008.

If those liberal bogeymen help solidify the Democrats, the leadership could bring the bill to the floor tomorrow.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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