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Nonprofit clamp-down – Privacy debate moves to House

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After the House rejected a Democratic bid to force certain campaign organizations to disclose donor identities, Republican leaders agreed Friday to bring their version of the same legislation to the floor, the Associated Press reported on June 10.

House Republicans hope to gain momentum from a similar measure that passed in the Senate Thursday. The legislation, sponsored by John McCain, R-Ariz., marks the first Senate vote since 1993 to enforce tighter campaign finance laws.

The disclosure debate is the last substantial effort by the current Congress to reform the nation’s campaign system. At issue are nonprofit organizations that produce campaign-style commercials.

The goal of both parties is to force these tax-exempt organizations to disclose their role in influencing elections. The Democrats in particular aim to clamp down on 527 political groups that use loopholes to raise and spend unlimited money without public exposure, as long as they don’t campaign for or against a specific candidate.

“This is a moment in which Democrats and Republicans can come together to pass an end to secret organizations with undisclosed money,” said House Democratic leader Dick Gephart of Missouri about the debate.

Several prominent conservatives, however, including House Majority Whip Tom DeLay are demanding that the identities of donors to those organizations be protected.

Critics say that shielding donor identities will undermine efforts by Congress to understand the role of big money in politics.

Some liberals have joined DeLay in the effort to protect donor anonymity. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for example, has won court rulings protecting it from revealing members and donors for fear of retribution.

House Democrats say DeLay’s resistance amounts to self-preservation. They recently filed racketeering charges against him, alleging that he has “extorted” money from donors and steered it into 527 groups that he controls.

Legal experts say it could be difficult to find a constitutional way to force groups to disclose their donors.

For a full text of the article, go to the Dallas Morning News.

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