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10 Senate Republicans Join Reform Process While Senate GOP Leaders Scuttle Campaign Finance Reform Bill

Oct. 20, 1999

Contact: Steve Weissman, 202-454-5182

10 Senate Republicans Join Reform Process While Senate GOP Leaders Scuttle Campaign Finance Reform Bill

“I?d call it no progress whatsoever,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about Tuesday?s two votes in favor of campaign finance reform legislation. But McConnell was wrong. Although proponents of reform did not obtain the needed 60-vote supermajority, the two cloture votes showed that three more Republican senators — Brownback of Kansas, Hutchinson of Arkansas and Roth of Delaware — had joined the seven who previously voted in support of legislation banning soft money. Adding these 10 Republicans — one-fifth of the caucus — to the 45 pro-reform Democrats, there is now a 55-vote majority in the Senate in favor of significant campaign finance reform.

On Wednesday, however, for the fourth time in two years, Senate Republican leaders thwarted the clear desire of this growing bipartisan Senate majority to enact campaign finance legislation banning soft money. They did so by decreeing an end to further consideration of the McCain-Feingold reform bill. Their decision came in the aftermath of parliamentary maneuvers by McConnell that succeeded in discouraging his colleagues from offering their amendments to the bill.

By arbitrarily ending the debate after three days, Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), along with McConnell, broke his promise to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that there would be five days of real debate with amendments to provide the opportunity to build a broader bipartisan consensus behind a final product. Apparently, fairness is expendable when it interferes with the search for soft money.

While Republican leaders played the major role in scuttling the reform bill, Democratic parliamentary maneuvers helped provide the pretext for Republican actions. This raised the question of whether some Democrats were sincerely trying to advance the reform movement or simply trying to make political hay.

At the end of the debate, McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said they were no longer bound by their previous agreement with Lott not to bring the bill up again before the Senate recesses for the year. That is right. The country can no longer afford to conduct business as usual while partisan politicians and wealthy special interests prosper.