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A funny thing happened on the way toward shining a light on big money's influence in political campaigns. Apparently, the 53 House Democrats who get money from the NRA decided to stand in the way. Not on principle. They've got no problem with disclosure rules for big corporations, small corporations, unions, or advocacy groups in general.
And it's not because H.R. 5175 has anything to do with the Second Amendment or regulations on gun ownership. It doesn't.
I appreciate the concerns that some NRA members have raised regarding our position on H.R. 5175, the "DISCLOSE Act." Regrettably, our position has been misstated by some and intentionally misrepresented by others. I hope you'll allow me to provide the proper context.
The U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision was a significant victory for free speech and the Constitution. The NRA filed a strong brief in that case, which the Court specifically cited several times in its opinion. The DISCLOSE Act is an attempt to reverse that victory and that's why we told Congress we oppose it.
The NRA has never supported -- nor would we ever support -- any version of this bill. Those who suggest otherwise are wrong.
The restrictions in this bill should not apply to anyone or to any organization. My job is to ensure they don't apply to the NRA and our members. Without the NRA, the Second Amendment will be lost and I will do everything in my power to prevent that.
We believe that any restriction on political speech is repugnant. But some of our critics believe we should put the Second Amendment at risk over a First Amendment principle to protect other organizations. That's easy to say -- unless you have a sworn duty to protect the Second Amendment above all else, as I do.
The NRA is a single-issue organization made up of millions of individual members dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment. We do not represent the interests of other organizations. Nor do all groups fight all issues together. For example, we didn't support the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when it backed amnesty for tens of millions of illegal aliens and we did not join the Chamber in its support of President Obama's stimulus bill. And we've been in direct opposition when the Chamber has tried to restrict Second Amendment rights in publicly accessible parking lots.
Rather than focusing on opposing this bill, some have encouraged people to blame the NRA for this Congress's unconstitutional attack on free speech. That's a shame. If you oppose this bill, I hope you will contact your Member of Congress and Senators so they can hear from you.
I have been an NRA Board member for some years and currently serve as NRA's First Vice-President -- that you may know. What you may not know is that I have been in the forefront of the fight against liberal attempts to tilt the political playing field their way for decades through what they like to call campaign finance reform. This is a battle that began in the seventies when I put together the case that went to the United States Supreme Court known as Buckley v. Valeo. I was a vocal opponent of the so-called McCain-Feingold "reforms" that shackled groups like the NRA in recent years, and I have served as a First Amendment Fellow at Vanderbilt University's Freedom Forum.
I can assure you that I would never countenance a "deal" of the sort you think the NRA made with Congress to further Democratic attempts to restrict political speech. I consider such restrictions to be not only repugnant, but blatantly unconstitutional, an opinion shared by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris Cox.
The so-called "DISCLOSE ACT" is a horrible piece of legislation designed to do exactly what you suggest. It would require advocacy groups to run a regulatory gauntlet designed to make it very difficult for many of them to play the role for which they were formed and is both bad policy and flies in the face of recent Supreme Court decisions.
But I'm afraid there's more . particularly how it would affect the NRA. When you think of the NRA you no doubt think mostly about the NRA's advocacy on Second Amendment issues, but the NRA also provides training to its members, law enforcement and military personnel, works with states, counties and private organizations to build ranges and runs competitive events such as those at Camp Perry in Ohio. Since Camp Perry is a military base, public monies go into range development and federal funds go to training military and police personnel, the NRA would be classed with government contractors and TARP recipients under the DISCLOSE ACT as originally written and effectively prohibited from engaging in any meaningful political activity.
In other words, this act as originally written by anti-gun legislators like New York Senator Chuck Schumer would have silenced the NRA .which would have been the death knell for the Second Amendment.
NRA has one major mission . to defend the right of its members and all Americans to Keep & Bear Arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Therefore, the NRA served notice on Congress that since the act threatened our very existence, we were prepared to do anything and everything that might be required to defeat it unless it was changed so that we could continue to represent the views of our members in the public arena. The letter, sent on May 26, was public. The NRA did not engage in back room shenanigans, but told Congressional leaders quite clearly that we would do whatever we needed to do to protect the rights of our members and our ability to defend the Second Amendment.
Last week Democratic leadership in the House capitulated by agreeing to exempt the NRA from the act -- not in return for NRA support, but to avoid a political war that might cost them even more seats this fall.
I have to tell you that I never thought the Democrats would agree to this -- not because they have much regard for constitutional rights -- because I didn't believe their left wing would allow it. The events since their capitulation convince me that their fear of NRA retaliation forced them to take steps that split their coalition and could easily doom the whole bill.
Consider this: on Thursday night, California Senator Diane Feinstein, one of the most anti-Second Amendment members of the Senate, announced that she wouldn't support the DISCLOSE ACT if it exempted the NRA. By Friday some two-dozen left wing activist groups that had previously been pressing Congress to pass the bill announced that now they wanted it defeated.
The bottom line is that in refusing to risk its members' rights and the very survival of the Second Amendment, the NRA has also made it less rather than more likely that support for this terrible legislation will collapse and the free speech rights of every one of us will benefit.
We appreciate the concerns some NRA members have raised about our position on H.R. 5175, the "DISCLOSE Act." Unfortunately, the mainstream media and other critics of NRA's role in this process have misstated or misunderstood the facts. We'd like to set the record straight.
We have never said we would support any version of this bill. To the contrary, we clearly stated NRA's strong opposition to the DISCLOSE Act (as introduced) in a letter sent to Members of Congress on May 26 (click here to read the letter).
Through the courts and in Congress, the NRA has consistently and strongly opposed any effort to restrict the rights of our four million members to speak and have their voices heard on behalf of gun owners nationwide. The initial version of H.R. 5175 would effectively have put a gag order on the NRA during elections and threatened our members' right to privacy and freedom of association, by forcing us to turn our donor lists over to the federal government. We would also have been forced to list our top donors on all election-related television, radio and Internet ads and mailings -- even mailings to our own members. We refuse to let this Congress impose those unconstitutional restrictions on our Association.
The introduced version of the bill would also have prohibited political speech by all federal government contractors. The NRA has contracts to provide critical firearm training for our Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies throughout the country. The bill would have forced us to choose between training our men and women in uniform and exercising our right to free political speech. We refused to let this Congress force us to make that choice.
We told Congress we opposed the bill. Consequently, congressional leaders announced they would exempt us from its draconian restrictions on political speech. If that happens, we will not be involved in final consideration of this bill in the House. If it doesn't, we will strongly oppose the bill.
Our position is based on principle and experience. During consideration of the previous campaign finance legislation passed in 2002, congressional leadership repeatedly refused to exempt the NRA from its provisions, promising that our concerns would be fixed somewhere down the line. That didn't happen; instead, the NRA had to live under those restrictions for seven years and spend millions of dollars on compliance costs and on legal fees to challenge the law. We will not go down that road again when we have an opportunity to protect our ability to speak.
There are those who say the NRA should put the Second Amendment at risk over a First Amendment principle. That's easy to say -- unless you have a sworn duty to protect the Second Amendment above all else, as we do.
The NRA is a non-partisan, single-issue organization made up of millions of individual members dedicated to the protection of the Second Amendment. We do not represent the interests of other organizations. That's their responsibility. Our responsibility is to protect and defend the interests of our members. And that we do without apology.
Today, the fate of the bill remains in doubt. The House floor debate has repeatedly been postponed. Lawmakers and outside groups who once supported the bill, or took no position -- including the Brady Campaign -- have now come out against it because of the announcement regarding NRA.
The outcome in the Senate is even murkier, as anti-gun Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has announced her strong opposition to the proposed change.
No matter what may happen now, NRA members can be assured that protection of gun owners' interests will remain NRA's top priority. Please check in regularly at www.NRAILA.org for the latest news on this issue.