With Reporting by Arthur Delaney
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said on Friday that any obituaries being written about his push for new campaign finance legislation are "very, very premature."
Speaking the morning after House leadership pushed back consideration for the DISCLOSE Act, the Maryland Democrat said that the delay is not an indication of flagging support. A host of lawmakers and good government groups have aired reservations about the bill due to a disclosure exemption granted for the National Rifle Association, in addition to other groups -- saying it makes little sense to cut a deal with a special interest for a bill meant to tackle special interests.
"This is when everyone needs to take a deep breath and remember what the goal is here," Van Hollen said, when asked about the complaints. "And the goal is to prevent millions upon millions of dollars of special interest and corporate money from flowing into campaigns without any fingerprints, and the creation of sham organizations that are designed to mislead voters and not disclose their identity. That goes back to the fundamental issue here and the big challenge."
On Thursday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met separately with members of the Blue Dog and Congressional Black Caucus to discuss their respective concerns with the legislation -- without reaching any agreement on the best way to proceed. And leadership was forced to scrap its plans for a vote on Friday.
"We agreed to hold off on DISCLOSE to allow time to respond to some of the concerns that emerged during the whipping process," said Vincent Morris, spokesman for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) chair of the House Rules Committee. "But things are coming together pretty well and we expect to meet on it next week."
In light of the failure to move forward, speculation mounted that campaign finance reform -- crafted in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision -- is, at least temporarily, dead. Van Hollen, who authored the legislation, blessed the NRA carve-out and worked tirelessly to pitch the final product, hit the phones again on Friday to assure supporters that the DISCLOSE Act will get its proper hearing.
"I think the progressives are largely in agreement here," he told the Huffington Post. "I think our members understand that it would be a mistake to sacrifice a piece of legislation that will provide historic transparency as a result of changes that were made that will not result in any confusion to the voter."
Among the new pitches the congressman made was to remember the process that took place the last time Congress tried to pass campaign finance legislation. The McCain-Feingold Act lingered in legislative limbo for years before it was ultimately signed into law under President Bush. It took years of negotiations and even a major business scandal (Enron) to build the groundswell of support for that bill. Van Hollen is hoping Citizens United has the same catalytic effect, but he doesn't have the same amount of time to spare.
"The McCain-Feingold legislation is a good example of that fact that when you've got virtually every special interest aligned against you, it is very difficult to pass campaign finance legislation because every special interest in the country has some gripe with some part of the legislation," he said. "The people who benefit are the American public and it is clear when you poll this question, as an Independent, Democrat or Republican, you deserve the right to know who spent money on these ads."