WASHINGTON - One of President Obama's top legislative priorities is in serious doubt after top House Democrats' attempt to satisfy the National Rifle Association backfired badly.
Top Democrats abandoned plans for a Friday vote in the House on the legislation, known as the Disclose Act, after liberal groups and members of the Congressional Black Caucus rose up against the deal with the NRA. A lobbying blitz by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups also undermined support for the legislation, aides said.
The bill would require corporations, unions and nonprofit groups to disclose their top five donors if they participate in political activity and to agree to other disclosures in connection with expenditures prior to elections. The bill and a similar measure in the Senate are aimed at countering a Supreme Court ruling that unleashed unlimited political spending by corporations.
The NRA had threatened to muster its formidable lobbying power against the legislation unless it was exempted from key donor disclosure requirements. After Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) unveiled the resulting compromise, gun-control groups, environmental organizations and other linchpins of the liberal Democratic base voiced outrage with the deal.
The anger boiled over Thursday afternoon during meetings between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and members of two crucial voting blocs: the CBC and the conservative Blue Dog Democrats. The Black Caucus objected to the bill's potential impact on the NAACP and other civil-rights groups, while the Blue Dogs are spooked by opposition from the business lobby ahead of the November elections, according to aides familiar with the meetings.
Van Hollen's office said he remained confident a deal could be reached. He attempted to bridge differences Thursday by expanding the number of potential groups that would be exempted from disclosure requirements, from those with more than 1 million members to those with more than 500,000.
"We made a lot of progress this week despite opposition by hundreds of special-interest groups who are doing what they do best -- looking out for themselves," said Van Hollen spokesman Doug Thornell. "While we aren't there yet, we will be soon."
But opponents appeared confident that the measure was on the ropes. Bruce Josten, the chamber's chief lobbyist, said Thursday that "groups on both sides have strong objections to this bill. This is about rationing free speech."