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Exclusive NRA Deal for Campaign Law?

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In a demonstration of blatant political cynicism, the NRA now has no problems with campaign finance donor disclosure laws -- as long as it gets exempted.

To the NRA bosses, it's not just "the guys with the guns make the rules," but the guys with the undisclosed money sources make the rules -- particularly when everybody else's donors have to be disclosed. It's no longer just guns that they say will have to be pried from their "cold dead hands." It's their donor lists, too.

In a shameful and outrageous move, the NRA has pressured the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to exempt it -- and apparently only it -- from proposed legislation that would require corporations, unions, and advocacy and lobbying groups to reveal donations used to support political campaigns.

Under H.R. 5175, every other group or corporation would have to report the names of people who donate at least $600 to expenditures directed at or available for election activities. Every. Other. Group -- such as the Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Gun Owners of America, the National Right-to-Life Committee, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Every group -- except the NRA.

The original bill, authored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, is a response to the 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year that basically allows corporations to spend as much money on political activities as they want -- any time they want.

Van Hollen's proposal sought to bring transparency to the process by requiring that corporations, and other groups doing political advocacy, report major sources of funds for expenditures late in the campaigns of federal candidates for office. But in an effort to get the support of the NRA, and the elected officials they shower money on, the latest proposal now exempts them from disclosing their larger contributors: groups with more than a million members who raised 15 percent or less funding from corporations. Meanwhile, smaller groups across the political spectrum must their reveal their contributors.

The NRA, with more than $322 million in revenue in 2007 and a claimed four million members, appears to be the only group that fits these new criteria. This makes Congress' "cure" for the Citizens United Court decision so outside the spirit of what Congress says it is trying to do that any real supporter of campaign reform should be embarrassed to vote for it.

People are already cynical about the connections between big money and Congress. Now, the big dollar guys would get to avoid the rules once again while the small groups would still have to jump through the hoops in the law.

Given the recent unwillingness of Congress to give D.C. residents a U.S. representative with a vote without also having their court-approved gun laws gutted, and now this reluctance to do campaign finance disclosures without exempting the well-heeled NRA, it seems there is a new condition that must be met before almost any federal legislation is allowed to proceed: Make sure the legislation doesn't upset the gun lobby bosses.

What this deal ultimately would do is create a two-tier system for political speech -- one for the NRA fat cats and the other for everyone else. I strongly urge House members to reflect deeply upon whom it is they are supposed to represent and protect, and oppose this tarnished legislation. I urge every American who wishes to be heard on the most important issues of our time to contact congressional leaders and urge them to stop this proposal.

Paul Helmke is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Follow the Brady Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.