STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Even John McCain, the Senate champion of changing campaign laws, let the lobbyists keep their privacy. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: Take the case of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. As a Washington lobbyist, Abramoff had to report his fees, but for grassroots work he would make clients hire his buddy Michael Scanlon at wildly inflated prices. Scanlon didn't have to disclose anything. McCain ran a high-profile investigation of Abramoff and cited his scam as a reason for reform just one year ago.
JOHN MCCAIN: We saw phony Christian grassroots organizations consisting of a box of cell phones in a desk drawer. I would submit that in the great marketplace of ideas we call public discourse, truth is a premium that we can't sacrifice.
OVERBY: This year, under Democratic leadership, the Senate revived the grassroots provision word for word in a new lobby reform bill. Conservative groups responded swiftly. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, said on his radio show that the provision was aimed at silencing people like him.
JAMES DOBSON: When the Democrats are in the majority, they move instantly to consolidate their power and confuse or silence opposition.
OVERBY: And the mostly conservative coalition sprang up. Wendy Wright is president of Concerned Women for America.
WENDY WRIGHT: This was such a dire threat that we need to have meetings to make sure people were motivated to work on this. One thing I love about this is that grassroots activism helped to kill a threat to grassroots activism.
OVERBY: McCain was among those voting to kill the provision. And Wendy Wright says she knows why.
WRIGHT: Because he is running for president.
OVERBY: Director Gary Bass says his side lost because the bill's sponsors had to defend other provisions, while McCain, the Senate icon of clean government, gave cover to opponents. Bass says it added up to one thing.
GARY BASS: A great opportunity for those who opposed the provision to help maneuver and outgun those who think disclosure is the right thing to do.
OVERBY: Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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