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Part 1: Big Money
The Cost of Winning
Part 2: The Issues
What's For Sale?
Part 3: Past Reforms
A Look at the Laws
Part 4: Soft Money
A Look at the Loopholes
Part 5: The Allegations
The Excesses of '96
Part 6: Where It Stands
Today's Reform Proposals

Part 6:
Where It Stands - Today's Reform Proposals

The public and party leaders agree that once again something needs to be done about campaign finance. But the consensus disintegrates whenever it comes to specific proposals.

That's because the major parties take starkly different views on the specifics of the various "reform" proposals, largely depending on what the likely effect is on their bottom lines.

Even bipartisan efforts by individual members of Congress to overhaul campaign finance fail dismally, over and over again, as party leaders crush proposals that contain elements that aren't to their liking.

From The Post
_ Campaign Bill Gains in House, April 21, 1998

_ Campaign Finance Bill Dies in Senate, Feb. 27, 1998

_ Senators Debate Campaign Finance, Sept. 27, 1997

_ In Campaign Finance, One Party's 'Level Playing Field' Is Another's Shaky Ground, April 7, 1997

_ Campaign Finance Bills Pile Up, Votes Don't, July 4, 1997

Democrats generally support limits in soft money and spending because of the GOP's traditional ability to raise funds from the wealthy. And while there is dissension in the ranks, Republicans generally argue against limits – particularly if unions remain unfettered in their spending of dues. Some Republican leaders support raising the current limits for individual contributions, which they say would reduce the time and energy spent on fund-raising.

Promises are made, deadlines are set, but still nothing gets done. Clinton and House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) famously shook hands before a group of senior citizens in Claremont, N.H., in June 1995 and pledged to create a bipartisan commission to reform campaign finance. Nothing came of it.

Prospects looked typically bleak in the 105th Congress. In February, one key bill won the support of a majority of Senators but was filibustered to death by Republican leaders. In March, the House GOP leadership simply refused to allow members an up-or-down vote on any of the major proposals.

But one month later, in the face of a bipartisan rebellion, House leaders reversed course. Now a lively, wide-open debate has begun in the House and is expected to last through summer.

In the House, the focus is on two major pieces of legislation. One, co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut and Democratic Rep. Martin Meehan of Massachusetts, is the House counterpart of the McCain-Feingold bill, the creation of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

The other is a measure written by a bipartisan task force of freshman lawmakers. Its lead sponsors are Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Democratic Rep. Tom Allen of Maine.

Shays-Meehan would ban "soft money" entirely; the freshmen bill doesn't go quite so far.

Shays-Meehan, much like McCain-Feingold, would:

  • Ban soft money. Instead, all contributions would be subject to limits that now apply to hard money.
  • Prevent soft money from being rechanneled into independent expenditures by drawing a line between issue advocacy and outright advocacy of a particular candidate, including a ban on using a candidate's name or likeness within 60 days of an election.
  • Require expanded and speedier disclosure of contributions and expenditures, including electronic filing, and impose stronger penalties for violations.

While the freshmen proposal has much in common with Shays-Meehan and McCain-Feingold, it would:

  • Ban soft money contributions to national political parties, but allow state party organizations to continue accepting them.
  • Increase the amount individuals can contribute from $25,000 per election cycle to $25,000 per year.
  • Index federal contribution limits so that they rise with inflation.

_ Shays-Meehan Bill
_ Bipartisan Freshmen Bill
_ McCain-Feingold Bill

Top Democrats support both proposals, but Republican leaders have vowed to block them.

Any attempt to establish mandatory spending limits would likely run afoul of the Supreme Court's Buckley v. Valeo ruling. In March 1997, Sens. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to set such limits, but it was overwhelmingly voted down.

In the meantime, fund-raising proceeds at a record pace: The two political parties raised about $74 million in soft money during 1997 – more than twice the amount they raised during the comparable period four years earlier.

Ultimately, supporters of campaign finance reform face a paradox: Expecting people who live and die by money to actually regulate it. Nothing could be more political.

© Copyright 1998 Digital Ink Company

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