Buying votes

In January, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision struck down a decades-old law barring corporations and unions from directly supporting political campaigns.

Democrats in Congress have responded by cobbling together the so-called Disclose Act, designed to make exercising the First Amendment right to free speech as cumbersome as possible.

The bill would ban government contractors from contributing to campaigns, prevent TARP money recipients from using that money to influence elections, and prevent foreign nationals and countries from contributing to campaigns.

The measure would also require corporate chief executives to appear in political ads that their companies help pay for, specifically saying that they “approved this message,” and would require organizations engaging in speech to reveal their donor lists.

But the opposition of one powerful lobbying group — the National Rifle Association — over the issue of having to publish donor lists appeared ready to stop this legislation.

So, it was revealed last week that the Democratic leadership of the House bribed the NRA and other groups with “carve-outs” exempting them from some provisions. The NRA accepted the political graft, announcing that given the change, it won’t oppose the measure.

Five watchdog groups — Common Cause, Public Citizen, the Campaign Legal Center, the League of Women Voters and Democracy 21 — sent a one-paragraph letter to lawmakers on Tuesday, saying the bill, as amended, is great.

But it’s not. It’s a revolting embarrassment.

The main fault lies with the congressional deal makers, who made the NRA this “offer they couldn’t refuse.” What next? Laws suspending the Second Amendment, or the Fourth or the Sixth, with a special exemption “for anyone wealthy enough to hire a fancy lawyer”?

The NRA and the so-called “watchdog” groups should be equally ashamed to embrace such a “carve-out” proposal, with its implication that everyone else’s rights can go to hell.

After taking withering criticism for the exemption, House Democrats agreed on Thursday to expand the exemption to an even larger number of interest groups. But that still doesn’t make it right.

The law is another classic Democratic attempt at an end run around a high court ruling that quite properly enforced the First Amendment bar on any infringement of the freedom of political speech.