To critics of the NRA over H.R. 5175

Criticism about the NRA and H.R. 5175 should take into account the original letter to Congress that resulted in their exemption from this proposed draconian law:

May 26, 2010

Dear Member of Congress:

I am writing to express the National Rifle Association’s strong concerns with H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, as well as our opposition to this bill in its current form. It is our sincere hope that these concerns will be addressed as this legislation is considered by the full House.

Earlier this year, in Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court struck down the ban on certain political speech by nonprofit membership associations such as the NRA. In an attempt to characterize that ruling as something other than a vindication of the free speech and associational rights of millions of individual American citizens, H.R. 5175 attempts to reverse that decision.

Under the First Amendment, as recognized in a long line of Supreme Court cases, citizens have the right to speak and associate privately and anonymously. H.R. 5175, however, would require the NRA to turn our membership and donor lists over to the government and to disclose top donors on political advertisements. The bill would empower the Federal Election Commission to require the NRA to reveal private, internal discussions with our four million members about political communications. This unnecessary and burdensome requirement would leave it in the hands of government officials to make a determination about the type and amount of speech that would trigger potential criminal penalties.

H.R. 5175 creates a series of byzantine disclosure requirements that have the obvious effect of intimidating speech. The bill, for example, requires “top-five funder” disclosures on TV ads that mention candidates for federal office from 90 days prior to a primary election through the general election; “top-two funder” disclosure on similar radio ads during that period; “significant funder” and “top-five funder” disclosures on similar mass mailings during that period; and “significant funder” disclosure for similar “robocalls” during that period. Internet communications are covered if placed for a fee on another website, such as the use of banner ads that mention candidates for federal office. Even worse, no exceptions are included for organizations communicating with their members. This is far worse than current law and would severely restrict the various ways that the NRA communicates with our members and like-minded individuals.

While there are some groups that have run ads and attempted to hide their identities, the NRA isn’t one of them. The NRA has been in existence since 1871. Our four million members across the country contribute for the purpose of speaking during elections and participating in the political process. When the NRA runs ads, we clearly and proudly put our name on them. Indeed, that’s what our members expect us to do. There is no reason to include the NRA in overly burdensome disclosure and reporting requirements that are supposedly aimed at so-called “shadow” groups.

On the issue of reporting requirements, the bill mandates that the NRA electronically file all reports with the FEC within 24 hours of each expenditure. Within 24 hours of FEC posting of the reports, the NRA would be required to put a hyperlink on our website to the exact page on which the reports appear on the FEC’s website – and keep that link: active for at least one year following the date of the general election. Independent Expenditure reports would have to disclose all individuals who donate $600 or more to the NRA during the reporting period and Electioneering Communication reports would have to disclose all individuals who donate $1,000 or more to the NRA during the reporting period. There are literally thousands of NRA donors who would meet those thresholds, so these requirements would create a significant and unwarranted burden.

Some have argued that under the bill, all the NRA would have to do to avoid disclosing our $600 or $1,000 level donors is to create a “Campaign-Related Activity Account.” Were we to set up such an account, however, we would be precluded from transferring more than $10,000 from our general treasury to the account; all individual donors to that account would have to specifically designate their contributions in that manner and would have to limit their contributions to $9,999; the burdensome disclosure requirements for ads, mailings and robocalls would still apply; and the NRA would be prohibited from spending money on election activity from any other source – including the NRA’s Political Victory Fund (our PAC). In sum, this provision is completely unworkable.

Unfortunately, H.R. 5175 attacks nearly all of the NRA’s political speech by creating an arbitrary patchwork of unprecedented reporting and disclosure requirements. Under the bill, the NRA would have to track the political priorities of each of our individual members – all four million of them. The cost of complying with these requirements would be immense and significantly restrict our ability to speak.

As noted above, there is no legitimate reason to include the NRA in H.R. 5175’s overly burdensome disclosure and reporting requirements. Therefore, we will continue to work with members from both parties to address these issues. Should our concerns not be resolved – and to date, they have not been – the NRA will have no choice but to oppose passage of this legislation.


Chris W. Cox
Executive Director

There may be more to base the criticism on but I haven’t seen it. I’m not sure what critics would have them do when congress came back to them and said, “Never mind then, the law will never affect you guys.” Should the NRA have said, in effect, “We don’t care if it doesn’t affect our organization! We are going to fight this because it wouldn’t be fair to the Brady Campaign, the VPC, and others who aren’t as big as we are.”

Yes, their principles have a basis in the Bill of Rights. But they have a higher, sometimes, conflicting principle to look after the health of their organization and the rights of their members to keep and bear arms. And it is hard to see why dropping their opposition to the proposed law, as distasteful as it is, hurts the specific enumerated right they have pledged to defend.

Here is what the NRA is going to be sending to their members on the topic:

We appreciate some NRA members’ concerns about our position on H.R. 5175, the “DISCLOSE Act.” Unfortunately, critics of our position have misstated or misunderstood the facts.

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.

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’ 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 NRA provides critical firearms training for our Armed Forces and law enforcement throughout the country. This bill would force us to choose between training our men and women in uniform and exercising our right to free political speech. We refuse to let this Congress force us to make that choice.

We didn’t “sell out” to Nancy Pelosi or anyone else. We told Congress we opposed the bill. As a result, congressional leaders made a commitment to exempt us from its draconian restrictions on free speech. If that commitment is honored, we will not be involved in the final House debate. If that commitment is not fully honored, 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 has a greater duty to principle than to gun rights. It’s easy to say we should put the Second Amendment at risk over some so-called First Amendment principle – unless you have a sworn duty to protect the Second Amendment above all else, as we do.

The NRA is a bipartisan, 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.

Update: I have not been explaining my thought processes as well as I should have been. Let me try again:

I am vehemently opposed to the proposed legislation. IMHO the sponsors of the bill should be tried for treason and consideration of all possible punishments should be given serious consideration.

But I find it difficult to be critical of the NRA for their behavior in this affair. If the ACLU were to withdraw their opposition (I presume they are opposed) to the bill because they were given an exemption then I would be outraged because they claim free speech as a freedom they have pledged to defend.

Organizations have certain domains in which they operate. Microsoft stockholders would justifiably outraged if MS started donating all their profits to unwed mothers or providing food to all the starving children of the world. It may be that a majority of the stockholders are sympathetic to those charity cases but it would still be wrong because that is not within the charter of the organization.

And so it is with the NRA in this case. True, it’s not as clear cut. There is significant connection between the 1st and 2nd Amendments. But the concept is the same. It’s not within the NRA’s domain to protect freedom of speech if it does not affect them.

But, as I said before, I don’t trust Congress to leave the “freedom of speech loophole” open for long. And I hoped the NRA was actually playing a clever game to defeat the proposed law via dropping opposition to it. I’m less convinced they should be given credit for thinking that far ahead. I suspect they got lucky rather than being extremely clever but the end result may be the same.

This may end up being a Philosophy 101 question. Should someone (or an organization) be criticized for their intentions or on the results of their actions? If they were being very clever and defeated the bill we should praise them. If they were just looking out for the short term and got lucky with the same result should we be critical of them?


22 thoughts on “To critics of the NRA over H.R. 5175

  1. As I see it, the 2nd Amendment does not exist alone, it has a number of other fellow amendments that protect citizens from the federal government overstepping their bounds. Whether or not someone agrees with the VPC, the Brady Center, the AARP or any other politically active organization, it shouldn’t matter. Everyone should have equal access to the political process. That includes exerecising our right to political free speech. If we can’t listen to the message and reason out whether or not we agree with it, then we don’t deserve what we currently enjoy.

  2. Joe,

    THIS is what I object to: “If that commitment is honored, we will not be involved in the final House debate.”

    By getting this carve-out, the Dems bribed the NRA into staying on the sidelines of the debate. This legislation fails the “Jews in the Attic” test on a grand scale, and the NRA tacitly admits that the organization is willing to compromise a core principal due to a promise built on shifting sands.

    If the legislation passes, how long until the NRA is the only group still able to speak? How long would the rabid Left take to close this loophole? Maybe by attaching an amendment to an appropriations bill or some-such? NRA needs to score this one just like a gun-control vote. The core Liberty principal is the same here.

  3. Oh, we’ll never come after you with this law…

    {minor tweak later}

    What NRA? Never heard of’em? do they advertise somewhere?

    Principles are princples. Either you has them or you don’t. NRA has a mission, and they pursue it. Fair enough. But you either support freedom for everybody, or there is no freedom.

  4. thebastidge,

    Are you saying the NRA should be active in protecting due process and habeas corpus for Guantánamo Bay detainees?

    Okay, that was a little “out there”.

    How about for the decriminalization of recreational drugs?

    Still to far “out there”?

    How about use of eminent domain to benefit private businesses?

    How about right of peaceable assemble by neo-Nazis?

    What if the law in question were written so narrowly so as to only affect neo-Nazis?

    I don’t see a more clear place to draw the line than the one they chose.

  5. Joe, as to your questions to the Bastidge. The answer to all is YES. Freedom is just not the things YOU agree with, But the ability to speak your position and let others decide. Freedom is not only not free, sometimes it’s not so easy to accept from a position you may not like. Rule of thumb. If you find yourself justifying an exemption for one group, then another group is loosing a freedom. First they came for The Jew’s in the attic….. You wrote it reread it.

  6. P.S. The N R A was not a single issue org. BEFORE they they got thier exemption.

  7. IdahoHunter,

    I agree that the proposed law is wrong and should be oppossed. Freedom is a principle I firmly support. And I’m willing to bet everyone who works for the NRA also opposes the law. But using NRA resources to oppose it when it does not affect the NRA or the NRA charter is much different than using personal resources when the law does not affect you.

    The N R A was not a single issue org. BEFORE they they got thier exemption.

    Odd, I don’t recall them taking a stand in Kelo v. City of New London or regarding the Guantánamo Bay detainees. Yet no one has complained about them sitting those issues out.

  8. Joe,

    I accept that the NRA chose to draw a line. I even understand the rationale for drawing it where they did. I just consider it a wasted opportunity.

    I agree that they are focused on Second Amendment issues, except that there will be bills that are proposed in Congress which encompass our right to bear arms, and which cross into 1st, 4th or 5th amendment domains. Like THIS ONE. In this instance, it is a 1st Amendment issue (right to assemble, freedom of association), affecting a 2nd Amendment organization (the NRA), about what could be argued are 4th Amendment (search and seizure of data if suspected of non-compliance) and 5th amendment (witness against himself, or deprivation of property without due process) subjects. All the FEC would need to do to an organization “suspected of campaigning without proper papers” is seize their data, and then mine it for the list of subversives.

    The likelihood that someone is a member of a politically-disfavored group, and is active, and therefore worth pursuing depends entirely on your point of view, I guess. Sorry, not playing. The government isn’t asking you to register your guns with them, they just want to know who your members are…

    The NRA rightfully objects to this odious piece of legislative slime. Bully for them. BUT, since they got their payoff exemption, they will not actively lobby against this. Great. This is a losing position and it demonstrates how easily they can be silenced in an area where they have the potential to sway the outcome heavily.

    I think that this one is worth expending political capital on.


  9. Read the letter Cox sent to Congress [posted above] where is the Second Amendment mentioned? It deals entirely with the N R A’s FIRST Amendment Rights

  10. Sorry posted by reflex. Once they got an exemption, then it became all about the Second. I am not saying that the NRA should take on EVERY fight fight, But once you involve yourself in one dont stop just because the opposition says I’ll stop hitting you and just kick your friends ass. Joe I greatly respect your opinion but, in this case I think You are mistaken

  11. Newbius,

    Yes, the proposed law is frought with terrible dangers and the potential for terrible abuses.

    It may have been an unintentional, but I suspect the NRA may have done the best thing they could have possibly done to kill the bill. Now what? Should people continue to be critical even though the bill died because of the NRA’s actions?


    That doesn’t mean they aren’t still a single issue organization. Yes, there is a level of indirection. The NRA was concerned about their ability to use rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to protect rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

  12. It is quite naive to believe that this one letter is the sum total of all NRA action in Washington, D.C. on the matter. The open letter is nothing more than a press release. It is absolutely certain that a legion of NRA lobbyists worked the halls of congress non-stop, influencing, deal-making, cajoling, and threatening as many members as they could get face time with.

  13. I don’t believe this was the sum total of their action in D.C. It is the only action that I have knowledge of. The substance of that other action is unknown to me and for me to speculate on that would be inappropriate. I can imagine those conversations going in any one of several different ways. Some very unflattering to the NRA and some admirable. I just don’t know.

  14. Joe, am I obtuse or do you just keep making my point for me? They are not now nor never have been a single issue organization. And please explain why it is right to give up in the middle of a fight they choose to take on outside of their single issue. “Principles are principles. Either you has them or you don’t” “the bastidge” [no shame in the theft] GOD help the sorry bastard that did that to me in a fight.

  15. And I should point out, Joe, that the NRA was more than willing to involve itself in a 1st Amendment issue, opposing a shitty DISCLOSE Act, when it appeared that they were going to be subject to those ‘draconian restrictions’. As soon as they were exempted, the bill suddenly became not very shitty at all …. well, except for everyone else.

  16. Sorry I fail to see how this is not an “Anti dog eat dog rule” for the NRA. The NRA can now “loot” donations from former members of the soon to be impotent GOA and JPFO. The NRA never did work and play well with others. When they came for the (fill in the blank) I did not protest because I was not (fill in the blank). The NRA did not stand up for their cause. The NRA stood up for the NRA, and got the bonus of destroying competition in the bargain.

  17. IdahoHunter,

    I’m not sure what is going on in our communication but I don’t think the channel is entirely clear.

    The fight was over a law that would have crippled their ability to defend the Second Amendment. It was never “outside of their single issue”. Once that was (supposedly) no longer an issue then there was nothing to fight about. And they didn’t “give up”. They won the battle against them and their members. I see them as having very high and consistent principles. It’s just that those principles don’t include fighting for the First Amendment rights of other organizations just as they don’t fight for the First Amendment rights of neo-Nazis unless the proposed law would affect NRA members in general.

    The Packetman,

    I’m at a loss as to how you arrive at the conclusion that the NRA is of the opinion the the bill “become not very shitty at all”. Everything I have read indicates they think it is a terrible law no matter who it applies to. It’s just that it is not within their job description to defend others on that issue. And furthermore by announcing they were no longer going to actively oppose it once they were exempted they may have doomed the law from all hope of getting passed in any form.

  18. The fight was was not about the right to fight for the second amendment, the fight was abandoned because it was no longer about THEIR right to fight for the second amendment. They can’t rape the NRA today but all others are fair game. Selling out for an individual cause is one thing (still not good)selling out for a single player is BAD.

  19. Vinnie,

    The JPFO would not affected by the proposed law because they are a 501(c)(3) corporation.

    It has been a long time since I did serious research on the subject but I’m pretty sure the GOA and the NRA are not considered “friends” by any defintion of the word “friend”. True, this will not improve the relationship any. But I doubt there would have been any public appreciation expressed by the GOA had the NRA stayed in the fight once they were informed of the exemption for them.

    The CCRKBA on the other hand would have been hurt and might have expressed some appreciation for the NRA staying in the ring.

  20. Joe, I think Newbius brought clarity to this for me by pointing out the key phrase “If that commitment is honored, we will not be involved in the final House debate”. I simply can’t believe that the NRA actually thought that statement would HELP quell the uproar. When I first read it, I assumed it must have been present in the original PR and therefore what triggered everyone’s animosity – not in the follow-up PR to calm everyone down!

    The NRA has publicly admitted to a soliciting a craven quid-pro-quo deal. I’m not so naive as to think that this isn’t how Washington always operates, but I’m insulted that the NRA somehow thinks I’m supposed to pat them on the back for agreeing to a deal which can so easily be circumvented by the other party.

  21. The first order of business for any organization is the continuation of the organization.

    Notice that the first order of business is not the mission statement of the organization, it is simple survival.

    The NRA has acted in a completely moral fashion, they have acted in a manner that ensures the survival of the organization which ensures the effectiveness of their efforts on behalf of the mission statement.

    This is why government agencies are so insidious, their number one priority is self preservation, NOT accomplishing the mission they were set up to do. What would the DEA do if we legalized drugs like Portugal did? What would the ATF do without constantly redefining the meaning of the word “manufacture”? What would the Department of Energy (created under Carter to ween us off foreign oil) do with it’s 18,000 plus jobs if it actually solved some energy problems?

    The NRA did exactly what it needed to, and not going further isn’t a sign of poor morals or lack of ethics, it is simple economy of effort.

  22. Disclose Act Will Choke First Amendment.

    The Neomarxist behind the Obama/FTC intend to drown out the voice of America with Obama/Marxist propaganda, enforcing new regulations that will cripple bloggers and other alternative media from disseminating information, free speech that grass-roots among other organizations depend on to make informed decisions. Obama’s support of the DISCLOSE Act confirmed what many Americans already believed; that Obama and certain Democrats in Congress intend to strangle the flow of information. If Obama and his leftists associations get their way, our Children will be brainwashed by Obama’s one-sided propaganda at school, through Obama controlled Radio, TV and Obama media policies that restrict the free flow of information. Historically when communists attempted or took over a country, one of their first steps was to control the media and all forms of public communications to control Civilian populations. When Russia took over Hungary, it immediately took control of the Radio stations to thwart Citizen resistance and to psychologically control the People. Considering the Obama administration’s obsession with controlling all media, one might ask, are some of the same persons inside and outside U.S. Government working with the Obama administration to push the Disclose Act and other censorship regulations, involved in causes that promulgate overthrow of the United States? While some in the Obama Government say they support dismantling capitalism, brick by brick, does their endgame call for destruction of the United States? If it does, what should Americans do to stop it? Does the Obama administration’s proposed censorship of free speech e.g., the Disclose Act threaten National Security? In other countries where members of political parties and ideological extremists attempted or succeeded in this kind of forced censorship, forbidding Citizens to receive information, they have been arrested for treason among other crimes. The Obama administration appears intended to curtail Americans’ right to know, restrict American’s right to communicate via the Internet and the Obama administration admits they want to pay writers in newspapers and other media to covertly propagandize their point of view. Is this not treason? Top CZAR Cass Sunstein prepared a 2008 paper that proposed spying on Americans, infiltrating groups and organizations to obstruct Free Speech, disrupt the exchange of ideas and disseminate false information to neutralize Americans that might question government.

    The majority of Americans oppose military governments. But increasingly during the last six months, more Americans quietly state they would trust the U.S. Military running U.S. Government temporarily over extremists in Obam’s government; that they would support a quasi Civilian/military form of government temporarily provided their civil and constitutional rights were protected and importantly, all leftists extremists in U.S. Government were deposed. This recent change of attitude by Americans might be explained by the fact they can relate to their U.S. Military and find nothing in common with Obama and his extreme leftist associations and supporters. Increasingly Americans appear to fear the Obama government more than the idea of having the U.S. Military temporarily run U.S. Government. Additionally Obama’s refusal to secure America’s Mexican border might have contributed to Americans identifying with a quasi/U.S. military government over an Obama government that won’t protect Border States from foreign invaders. The number of Marxists in the U.S. is small, but having them control any part of our government is repugnant to most Americans that believe it not in the best interest of our economy, national defense and National Security. Considering the direction America is going economically, more Americans are afraid that if things collapse, Obama might use the U.S. Military against U.S. Citizens; that should things collapse a quasi Civilian/U.S. Military government not the Obama administration should run America. This is mentioned only to note there is a strong wind blowing across America, that is howling enough Obama.

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