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House Considers Campaign Finance Legislation

Shays
Shays   

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics June 17) -- The House began debate Wednesday on campaign finance legislation and gave indications of strong support for substantial changes in campaign finance law, rejecting by a vote of 201-156 a proposal to pass responsibility for campaign finance reform to a committee.

The vote was seen as an early victory for advocates of campaign finance reform, and the debate promises to be long and chaotic. Republican leaders said everyone would get a chance to speak, but Democrats charged that the debate was designed to ensure that no meaningful bill would pass.

Before the first proposal was considered, the House put off a procedural vote that would allow hundreds of amendments to be offered. GOP leaders claimed it was in the interest of openness; Democrats called it a cynical "death-by-amendment" approach that would effectively prevent any bill from being passed.

Under procedures set by the GOP leaders, the House will debate 11 different versions of the legislation in the coming days and weeks, with the version getting the most votes becoming the House bill.

The Senate, after weeks of debate, has abandoned, for now, its attempt to pass legislation to restrict, control and make campaign donations more open.

'I rise in opposition to my own bill'

The first proposal considered Wednesday, backed by Rep. Rick White, R-Wash., would set up a commission, similar to the one established to recommend military base closings, to make suggestions to Congress on campaign funding changes.

White said it was a recognition of reality that "we can't let members of this House, or Congress, write the rules that govern their own elections. It's a fairly simple concept."

But Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., co-author with Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., of one of the main campaign bills, said Republican leaders were trying to win support for the commission idea as a means to undermine real reform.

"The leadership wants the commission bill to trump other bills," he said. Republicans would pick half the 12-member commission, he said, and thus could easily block major campaign finance changes because all recommendations would require approval of nine members.

Several Democrats who originally backed the commission bill, including Reps. Carolyn Maloney of New York and John Dingell of Michigan, now urged others either to vote against it or to vote "present." In the 201-156 vote against the commission, Democrats overwhelmingly opposed it, and 68 lawmakers, including nine Republicans, voted "present."

"I rise in opposition to my own bill," Maloney said. "We have a historic opportunity to pass real reform, and that is Shays-Meehan."

Shays-Meehan would ban "soft money" -- unregulated donations to national and state political parties from corporations, labor unions and individuals. It would also expand disclosure requirements and more tightly restrict "issue ads" that do not target individual candidates and are therefore not subject to federal disclosure laws. President Clinton supports Shays-Meehan.

The other main bill, backed by a bipartisan group of House freshmen, would ban soft money donations to national parties and bar candidates from raising such funds. But it would permit soft money donations to the state parties. It would establish new disclosure requirements for outside groups that run issue ads on television or radio, but would not restrict the ads themselves.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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