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EXCLUSIVE: NRA Threatens Senators Who Support Campaign Finance Disclosure

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"EXCLUSIVE: NRA Threatens Senators Who Support Campaign Finance Disclosure"

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NRA Lobbyist Chris W. Cox

NRA Lobbyist Chris W. Cox

In a letter opposing the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 — a bill to allow citizens to know what corporations and wealthy donors are paying for the “independent expenditure” attack ads enabled by the 5-4 Citizens United ruling — the National Rifle Association (NRA) is warning Senators it will score the issue in its legislative scorecard for this Congress.

The NRA opposes the measure — arguing that its “provisions require organizations to turn membership and donor lists over to the government” and would unconstitutionally abridge the right of citizens “to speak and associate privately and anonymously.” The legislation would merely require groups that opt to run outside political ads to tell voters which donors funded those efforts. By setting up a separate bank account for independent political spending, a group like the NRA would be able to keep its membership list private and would need only disclose the large money donors paying for the group’s campaign ads. Far from being unconstitutional, this sort of disclosure was explicitly endorsed in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Citizens United majority opinion as “the less-restrictive alternative to more comprehensive speech regulations.”

In 2010, after supporters of the DISCLOSE Act agreed to exempt just the NRA from the bill, the group dropped its opposition. Now, without those special protections in the 2012 version, the group is taking no chances and is issuing a strong message to any Senator who might support political transparency. The NRA letter warns:

Due to the importance of the fundamental speech and associational rights of the National Rifle Association’s four million members, and considering the blatant attack on those rights that S. 3369 represents, we strongly oppose the DISCLOSE Act and will consider votes on this legislation in future candidate evaluations.

In other words, vulnerable Senators facing re-election may face secret-money attack ads should they back transparency for secret money attack ads.

Here is the text of the letter, sent yesterday by NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox to Senators and obtained by ThinkProgress:

July 12, 2012

Dear Senator,

I am writing to express the National Rifle Association’s strong opposition to S. 3369, the DISCLOSE Act.

In its landmark Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on certain political speech by nonprofit membership associations, including the National Rifle Association. In an effort to mischaracterize that ruling as something other than a vindication of the free speech and associational rights of millions of American citizens, some have repeatedly attempted to effectively reverse or significantly limit the scope of Citizens United. The latest attempt in this regard is S. 3369.

The NRA has been around since 1871. Our members contribute for the purpose of speaking during elections and participating in the political process. We will not risk our Association or our members being silenced at election time, as S. 3369 would do, while the national news media, politicians and others are allowed to attack us at will. The NRA is a bipartisan, single-issue organization made up of millions of individual members dedicated to the protection of the Second Amendment. The NRA stands absolutely obligated to our members to ensure maximum access to the First Amendment, in order to protect and preserve the freedom of the Second Amendment.

Among the many problems with the DISCLOSE Act are its unconstitutional disclosure provisions. These provisions require organizations to turn membership and donor lists over to the government. Under the First Amendment however, as recognized in a long line of Supreme Court cases, citizens have the right to speak and associate privately and anonymously.

Further, the DISCLOSE Act creates byzantine administrative burdens that will suffocate individual citizen associations. The Court in Citizens United was clear: “As additional rules are created for regulating political speech, any speech arguably within their reach is chilled.” This bill attacks nearly all of an association’s political speech by creating an arbitrary patchwork of unprecedented tracking and disclosure requirements. Nonprofit associations would have to track the political priorities of each of its individual members. The cost of complying with these requirements will be immense; for many associations they may prohibit speaking altogether. That violates both the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment.

In addition, S. 3369 would give the FEC the power to require the NRA to reveal private, internal discussions with its millions of members about political communications. This unnecessary and burdensome requirement would leave it to government officials to make a determination about the type and volume of speech that would trigger potential criminal penalties, which is unacceptable.

Recent media accounts of retaliation against certain political donors reveal the true intent behind this legislation. It is not simply a “disclosure bill”, as its authors claim. Rather, it is a not-so-transparent attempt to rend Citizens United into a legal nullity, by chilling the very speech rights that were restored in that landmark decision.

Due to the importance of the fundamental speech and associational rights of the National Rifle Association’s four million members, and considering the blatant attack on those rights that S. 3369 represents, we strongly oppose the DISCLOSE Act and will consider votes on this legislation in future candidate evaluations.

Sincerely,

Chris W. Cox

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