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Funding law effort stalls anew

GOP leaders withdraw campaign-finance plan

By Bob Hohler, Globe Staff, 07/16/98

ASHINGTON - The thorny effort to rewrite the nation's campaign-finance laws snagged again yesterday, as opposing forces in the House could not reach agreement on how to end debate on the issue.

Republican leaders, who have pledged repeatedly to complete the debate before the House recesses for the summer on Aug. 7, abruptly withdrew a plan to meet the deadline after a bipartisan group of lawmakers pressing to reduce the influence of money in politics said they would support it.

Instead, GOP leaders floated a new proposal that the bipartisan coalition called worse than the first.

The original plan would have reduced the number of proposed amendments - to 34 from 258 - to the most prominent overhaul plan, sponsored by Representatives Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, and Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat.

The new proposal would permit debate on 59 amendments to the Shays-Meehan bill and nine alternatives to the measure.

''They backed off the first agreement when we agreed to it,'' Meehan said of the GOP leadership. ''They are trying to find a way to blame reformers for the delays, to shift the blame for doing nothing on campaign-finance reform to those who are working to get the reform.''

Aides to the Republican leaders said the first agreement contained a clause that would have allowed more than 34 amendments, which could have caused more delays than the second plan, which contains no such provision.

The aides said the GOP leaders intend to stand by their oral pledge to complete debate by Aug. 7.

Supporters of the Shays-Meehan bill survived a scare Tuesday night when the House narrowly defeated an amendment that Shays said would have ''gutted'' the overhaul plan.

The amendment's sponsor, Representative John Doolittle, a California Republican, said the measure had been aimed at protecting the right of independent organizations such as the Christian Coalition to distribute voter guides about the records of incumbent lawmakers before an election.

Shays and Meehan warned that the amendment would kill a major element of their plan: a provision requiring groups that wage campaigns aimed at influencing elections to report their fund-raising to the Federal Election Commission.

The amendment was defeated, 219-201. All 23 House members from New England opposed the amendment, except Representative John E. Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican, who voted for it, and Representative John W. Olver, a Pittsfield Democrat, who did not vote.

Later, the House adopted an amendment to the Shays-Meehan bill that Shays said could chip away at the fragile coalition that supports the overhaul. The measure, which passed, 282-126, would tighten the ban on political contributions by noncitizens, including legal permanent residents.

Opponents argued that legal permanent residents should be allowed to participate in the political process because they pay taxes, can be drafted in wartime, and, in most cases, are waiting to become citizens.

The New England delegation was divided on the amendment, with 11 members supporting it, 11 voting against it, and Olver not voting. The only Massachusetts lawmakers voting for the amendment were Representatives J. Joseph Moakley of South Boston, Joseph P. Kennedy II of Brighton, and Edward J. Markey of Malden. All are Democrats.

This story ran on page A03 of the Boston Globe on 07/16/98.
© Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.

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