Yesterday, House Democrats agreed to give in to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and exempt the powerful gun lobbying group from key financial disclosure rules. The DISCLOSE Act was designed to require corporations, unions, and politically active nonprofits to “report donors who finance such political activity above certain thresholds, and the company that primarily pays for TV or radio campaign ads would have to add a disclaimer message recorded by its CEO.” However, with the new carveout — pushed by moderate Democrats such as Rep. Heath Shuler (NC) — the NRA would get a special exemption.
Campaign finance reform groups quickly criticized the Democrats’ deal. The Center for Competitive Politics said it was “just the kind of insider manipulation that gives the public the sense that Congress is unresponsive to the concerns of ordinary Americans.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also sensed the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and criticized Democrats for making a “backroom” deal with the NRA:
If there is one thing Americans loathe about Washington it’s the backroom dealing to win the vote of organizations with power and influence at the expense of everyone else. … Just as it wasn’t the Democrats’ money to offer in the health care debate, free speech isn’t theirs to ration out to those willing to play ball — it’s a right guaranteed by our First Amendment to all Americans.
McConnell should know a backroom deal when he sees one — especially one with the NRA. Last year, he went behind the public’s back and convinced the NRA to help Republicans turn the public against Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nominee:
One top aide to GOP leader McConnell confirmed that McConnell, at a meeting of conservative groups, asked the NRA about scoring the Sotomayor vote as a key vote hostile to gun rights. The aide conceded that in asking the question, McConnell was promoting an unusual step that the NRA then took.
In 2007, McConnell gave a speech at the NRA’s “Celebration of American Values” conference, in which he specifically praised the NRA’s role in influencing lawmakers to try to kill campaign finance reform — something he now pretends to be shocked about in the 111th Congress:
Now, Chris alluded to the campaign finance fight. Many of you know that I was, at least in the beginning, kind of a lonely soldier there, but all of a sudden we had a larger group, and nobody was more central to the fight against what I still believe is unconstitutional campaign finance reform than the NRA, and I thank you for your leadership on that issue.
Remember, when you hear those three words, “campaign finance reform,” somebody’s trying to take away your right to speak. And the NRA was a very, very effective advocate.
McConnell is a longtime friend of the NRA, consistently receiving high marks for supporting the gun lobby’s priorities. In 2008, he received the group’s “Defender of Freedom Award.” He is the 12th highest recipient of NRA campaign contributions between 1998-2010, receiving a total of $21,350. In the 2008 election cycle, NRA’s PAC gave $9,900 to McConnell; the only Senate candidate to receive more money was Saxby Chambliss in Georgia.