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House narrowly passes campaign spending disclosure bill

From Deirdre Walsh, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bill requires most independent groups that pay for campaign ads to disclose their donors
  • Obama supports the House bill, while Republicans oppose it
  • The Senate is considering taking up its own version of the measure
  • Bill responds to Supreme Court ruling that struck down certain restrictions on campaign spending

(CNN) -- The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill that would require most independent groups that pay for campaign ads to disclose their donors.

The measure passed on a 219-206 vote, mostly along party lines with Democrats in support and Republicans opposing. The Senate is considering taking up its own version of the bill.

Referred to as the "DISCLOSE Act," the bill was pushed by House Democrats to respond to a Supreme Court ruling in January that struck down key provisions of campaign finance laws restricting spending by corporations, unions and independent groups.

President Barack Obama issued a statement Thursday praising the House for passing what he called "a critical piece of legislation to control the flood of special interest money into our elections."

According to Obama, who has criticized the Supreme Court ruling, the act would "give the American public the right to see exactly who is spending money in an attempt to influence campaigns for public office."

However, the president of Citizens United, the group that filed the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court ruling, criticized Democratic sponsors of the House bill for exempting major organizations including the National Rifle Association, labor unions and others.

"Citizens who are members of other grassroots groups will be muzzled by this legislation for no reason other than that they belong to a group without the financial and lobbying muscle to exempt itself from this bill," said the statement by David Bossie of Citizens United.

"This bill is nothing more than incumbent protection in its worst and most cynical form," Bossie's statement said. "The American people will not be fooled so easily."

Although the bill is aimed at reducing the influence of special interests in campaigns, it includes a major loophole exempting some major interest groups including the NRA and the American Association of Retired Persons from the disclosure requirements.

Under the bill, groups with 500,000 dues-paying members that have existed for at least 10 years and have members in all 50 states do not have to reveal their donors.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, slammed the exemptions for some groups, asking on the House floor why some groups would be protected but not others.

Boehner, a longtime supporter of the powerful NRA, took at shot at the group, saying: "Now the NRA are the big defenders of the Second Amendment, yet they think it's alright to throw everybody else under the table while they get a special deal."

Other Republicans complained the bill touted by Democrats as promoting transparency was written behind closed doors and would violate the right to free speech.

Democrats said the point of the bill is to let voters know who is bankrolling political ads.