Enron scandal gives push to campaign finance bill
The debate over proposals to change 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.
The House of Representatives passed a bill early Thursday that would implement the broadest changes in campaign finance law in a quarter century. The battle now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, has vowed to thwart attempts to block it. But opponents have threatened a filibuster.
Supporters say the legislation would clean up the system by reducing the political influence wielded by corporations, labor unions and other big contributors. Opponents say the measure amounts to an unconstitutional restriction on free speech and an infringement on political expression.
The House legislation -- known as the Shays-Meehan bill after its sponsors, U.S. Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, and Martin Meehan, D-Massachusetts -- was debated but then shelved in July. It regained momentum in January following revelations about the large-scale political contributions made by Enron Corp. Supporters got the necessary 218 signatures on a petition, meeting the number required to force a vote on the House floor despite opposition from Republican leaders.
The bill is a companion to the Senate's McCain-Feingold bill, which passed last year. The measures would ban so-called "soft money" -- unlimited contributions given by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to national political parties.
After almost 17 hours of continuous debate, the House early Thursday voted 240-189 to pass the Shays-Meehan bill and send it to the Senate. While passage there is not assured, supporters said they are optimistic about the legislation's momentum.
At a press conference, Daschle said he wants to put the bill up for a vote on the Senate floor "the minute" it is received from the House. Daschle also vowed to defeat any efforts at mounting a filibuster to block the bill.
In the House, 41 Republicans joined all but 12 Democrats to support the legislation.
Among other provisions, the Shays-Meehan bill would ban national political parties from raising or spending soft money.
The bill also prohibits labor unions and corporations from using soft money to fund advertising that mentions a federal candidate within 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary.
Though President Bush has hinted he would sign the bill, the White House has avoided making a commitment to do so. Aides said Bush has some reservations about the Shays-Meehan legislation.
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.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle: The South Dakota Democrat has vowed to push the measure through the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell: The Kentucky Republican has led previous efforts that succeeded in blocking campaign finance legislation. McConnell has said he will fight this bill and go to court if necessary to kill it.
President Bush: The president has not committed to supporting the Shays-Meehan legislation.
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.
Can supporters overcome Republican-led opposition and a possible Senate filibuster on the bill?
Will the legislation be forced into a conference committee with House and Senate leaders?
Will the president sign campaign finance reform legislation despite his reservations?
Will the controversy over Enron's political ties continue to fuel support for an overhaul of campaign finance rules?
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