Lawmakers charged with shepherding new campaign finance legislation through the House have expanded a loophole originally created for the National Rifle Association to include smaller groups with similar national presence.
A House aide confirms to the Huffington Post that the exemptions from the new stringent disclosure requirements offered under the DISCLOSE Act would now apply to groups with memberships over 500,000.
The previous floor had been set at one million members. But after input from and discussion among lawmakers, it was determined that such a standard would unfairly grant preferred status to the NRA and very few other groups. Other groups, unions included, have been pushing for their own exemptions.
"We originally thought when the number wasn't just going to affect the NRA, that there would be other groups that would be exempted," said a House Democratic aide, noting that this is just one of six criteria a group would have to meet to qualify for an exemption. "The whole point was to go after those fly-by-night groups... and this is still a very high bar to meet."
"Changing the language was done in recognition that folks thought this was just for the NRA. The reality is 500,000 is still a high bar to meet, but it also recognizes that there are groups with a longstanding history of doing legitimate good work."
Under the DISCLOSE Act, organizations that spend on the electoral process would be required to disclose the identification on the ads they sponsor and to provide shareholders with information on those political expenditures. Groups could be exempted from these disclosure requirements if they meet a variety of criteria, not just a membership roll of 500,000.
The group would have to be a 501(c)(4), have at least 10 years of continuous operation; have a member in each state; not have more than 15 percent of its funds "provided" in last year from corporations or unions; and have none of those corporate or union funds used for independent expenditures or electioneering communications.
The carve-out was crafted for the purpose of quieting opposition from the NRA that threatened to derail the entire bill's passage. And while adding the exemption allowed the legislation to move forward in the House, it was greeted with outrage from several corners of the good government community.
Defenders of the bill pointed out that other organizations, not just the gun lobby, would qualify for the exemption. But one of those groups, the AARP, told the Huffington Post on Thursday that they had neither lobbied for, nor were they likely to use, the carve out. Electioneering, a group official said, was not an activity in which they take part.
"AARP hasn't been involved at all in the process," said Jim Dau a group spokesperson. "We haven't taken a position on the bill, and we have not lobbied on either the underlying legislation or the proposed exemption. We haven't even seen the final language beyond what's being reported. From what we understand of the exemption, it's a moot point. AARP does not engage in express candidate advocacy. We don't endorse candidates, make political contributions, or -- more relevant to the DISCLOSE Act -- do any election-based advertising for or against any candidate or party. Simply put, AARP just doesn't engage in the kind of express advocacy activities that would, according to press reports, receive an exemption in the new bill."
Negotiators on the Hill are set to begin debate on the DISCLOSE Act as early as this week. But the decision to lower the membership bar for exemptions indicates that the legislative language is still in flux. It was not immediately clear which groups would qualify under the new criteria for exemptions. Nor is it clear whether good government officials, already upset over the granting of a carve out, will be satisfied with the bill now that that carve out has been made bigger.
UPDATE: Reid Wilson over at Hotline has more.