Senate Divided On Campaign Finance Bill
Key Republicans throw in their support after Democrats agree to compromise language
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 24) -- Legislation to regulate campaign fund-raising survived a first hurdle in the Senate Tuesday, as a motion to table it went down to defeat. But Republican opponents will try to kill the measure with a filibuster next.
Reform supporters gained ground earlier in the day when Republican Sens. James Jeffords (Vt.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) threw their support behind the McCain-Feingold reform bill.
With the extra support, McCain-Feingold survived, 51-48, a motion Tuesday afternoon to kill it. A clear majority is now on the record supporting the measure, but supporters are well short of the 60 votes necessary to cut off debate.
Outnumbered, opponents of campaign finance reform resorted to parliamentary maneuvers to block passage. Directly following the vote, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), used his prerogative as majority leader to prevent McCain-Feingold from advancing unless supporters can produce those 60 votes.
Snowe and Jeffords endorsed the bill when Democrats agreed to accept their compromise language on regulating so-called issue ads. The amendment would ban unions or corporations from running such ads within 60 days of an election.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) told reporters his caucus is united in its support of the Snowe-Jeffords amendment.
President Bill Clinton praised the compromise as the best hope for enacting reform, and said it's up to Republicans to allow a vote.
"Every member of the Democratic Caucus has endorsed the McCain-Feingold bill, which ends soft money and imposes other limits on the present system of campaign finance. There was a difficulty with the bill which was keeping us from generating any more Republican support. Senator Snowe of Maine and Senator Jeffords of Vermont have brokered a compromise," Clinton said.
"If a majority will back the Snowe-Jeffords compromise, then once again you will see that it is a minority keeping the country from getting it," Clinton said during a speech Thursday to the National Council of Jewish Women.
The legislation, drafted by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), would curb unlimited campaign contributions to political parties and restrain spending by parties and outside groups on so-called "issue ads" that attack candidates by name, but escape legal limits by stopping just short of advocating a vote against the candidate.
The other Republicans -- in addition to Jeffords, McCain and Snowe -- who are supporting the bill are Fred Thompson (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.). Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) also voted against the procedural motion to kill the legislation.
Opponents call the bill a violation of free speech and will filibuster to block it. "We're not quietly killing it; we're proudly killing it. We're not apologizing for killing this unconstitutional bill," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
"In America, money does not equal speech," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "More money does not entitle one to more speech. The powerful are not entitled to a greater voice in politics than average people. Everyone has an equal say in our government; that's why our Declaration of Independence starts with 'We the people.' "
GOP opponents of McCain-Feingold still hope to restrict the flow of labor money in elections with their so-called "paycheck protection" legislation. It would require unions to get advance permission from members before spending any dues money on politics.
CNN's Brooks Jackson contributed to this report.