Campaign financing overhaul getting hammered out
The debate over the need to reform the way federal campaigns are financed has raged on Capitol Hill for several years amid growing concern over the political influence of big money donors. Legislation under consideration in Congress could usher in the broadest campaign financing overhaul in a quarter-century.
Reform legislation known as the Shays-Meehan bill was debated but then shelved in July. The House's Republican leadership, which strongly opposes the bill, did not intend to bring it back up for a vote unless supporters could muster enough signatures on a petition to force a vote.
In January, following publicity about the large-scale political contributions made by Enron Corp. to Republicans and Democrats, supporters of Shays-Meehan got the necessary 218 signatures on their petition, meeting the number required to force a vote on the House floor.
The bill is a companion to the Senate's McCain-Feingold bill, passed last year. The measures would ban so-called "soft money" -- unlimited contributions given by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to national political parties.
As the House took up the measure for a vote -- expected late Wednesday or early Thursday -- opponents of Shays-Meehan proposed amendments to the legislation, as well as two substitute bills.
Meanwhile, supporters of Shays-Meehan also offered some last-minute changes to their legislation in a bid to win over representatives who could cast decisive swing ballots in a vote both sides believe could be very tight.
Among the changes, they set the date for the bill to become effective after the 2001 congressional elections, and intended to offer an amendment to raise the limit on "hard money" contributions to individual campaigns from $1,000 to $2,000.
Supporters, however, cautioned against amendments offered by opponents. Those amendments, they said, would serve as "poison pills" that would have the effect of scuttling the bill, even if the House approved it. That's because changing the bill would force it to go to a conference committee with the Senate, giving opponents another chance to block it.
Lobbying for support continued up to the last minute on both sides. The Republican National Committee took an active role in leading the charge against Shays-Meehan. President Bush avoided making any personal appeals to lawmakers, but he did not call on the national committee to cease its efforts.
Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, and Marty Meehan, D-Massachusetts, are the two legislators sponsoring the leading House measure.
Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, wrote the companion legislation, which was approved in the Senate last year. They have lobbied hard for Shays-Meehan.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. A strong opponent of Shays-Meehan, he offered a substitute amendment.
Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Albert Wynn, D-Maryland. They oppose Shays-Meehan and have offered another substitute amendment, which would limit but not ban soft money.
President Bush. The White House has indicated Bush will sign a campaign finance bill, although he opposes provisions in Shays-Meehan.
Will amendments take the teeth out of the Shays-Meehan legislation?
Can supporters withstand Republican-led opposition if the bill is forced into conference with the Senate?
Will President Bush sign campaign finance reform legislation, despite his reservations?
Will the controversy over Enron Corp.'s political ties continue to fuel support for reform?
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