Campaign Finance Bill Likely Dead For The Year
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 26) -- Campaign finance legislation is all but dead for this year, as the Senate stalemated in back-to-back votes Thursday.
On a 51-48 vote, Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans, were unable to muster the necessary 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster on the McCain-Feingold measure, which would ban unregulated "soft money" and limit issue advocacy advertising.
Republicans were also unable to cut off a Democrat-led filibuster of a measure to curb the use of union dues for political purposes. The vote was 53-46.
Following the procedural votes, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) announced he would remove the campaign finance bill from the floor and begin debate on unrelated legislation.
The reform 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.
Following the votes, McCain stressed reform is still needed. "I never said we would easily persuade our colleagues to vote to change a system that keeps incumbents in office. But I am also confident that we will win over time," McCain said.
"I say that with mixed emotions because I believe there will be more scandals ... There is probably some scandal going on right now even as we speak, because this system has become so corrupted," he said.
The bill was supported by all 45 Democratic senators but fiercely opposed by a majority of Republicans who consider it a violation of the First Amendment.
Despite its long-shot status, McCain-Feingold had made progress over the last three days. Supporters gained ground when Republican Sens. James Jeffords (Vt.) and Olympia Snowe (Me.) threw their support behind the reform bill. The two Republicans 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.
A clear majority went on the record supporting McCain-Feingold, as the members defeated a motion Tuesday to kill it on a 51-48 vote.
Outnumbered, opponents of campaign finance reform resorted to parliamentary maneuvers to block passage. Lott used his prerogatives as majority leader to prevent McCain-Feingold from advancing unless supporters could produce the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.
It was a classic Senate stalemate; each side had enough support to thwart the other but not enough to defeat them outright. The situation likely means campaign finance reform will be pulled from the Senate floor and probably will not come up again this year as a separate bill.
But Democrats have threatened to force the issue, perhaps by stopping all other business or by bringing up campaign finance reform as an amendment to unrelated bills which reach the Senate floor as the year progresses.
Feingold said that there was still room for negotiation to get campaign finance reform passed. "Obviously we have to break the filibuster at some point," he said.
"Sen. McCain and I and all of us have indicated on every day that we are ready to negotiate, to make changes to get additional support and we have every intention of not only doing that in Washington but traveling throughout the country to make sure that people understand that the majority of the Senate wants it," said Feingold.
Republicans who voted with Democrats on these procedural motions include Sens. John Chafee (R.I.), Susan Collins (Me.), Jeffords (Vt.), McCain (Ariz.), Snowe (Me.), and Fred Thompson (Tenn.).
CNN's Candy Crowley contributed to this report.