35 Days Til Congress Adjourns:
Campaign Finance Reform Bill Picking Up Steam in the House
July 22, 1998
Steve Weissman (202) 546-4996 x385 or Brian Dooley (202) 588-7703
With only 12 legislative days remaining before Congress’s summer recess beginning August 7th (and 35 days left before adjournment), the House is scheduled to resume debate on the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill next Monday, July 27th. Shays-Meehan bans the unlimited, unregulated soft money contributions to political parties that were at the center of the 1996 election scandals. It also brings under existing federal regulations the growing flood of phony “issue ads” that are really campaign ads in thin disguise.
Despite opponents’ attempts first to kill, then to stall, genuine campaign finance reform, the Shays-Meehan bill has been moving forward on the House floor. Thus far, bipartisan supporters have successfully fended off efforts by House Republican Whip Tom DeLay, Rep. Tom Doolittle (R-CA) and others to attach “poison pill” amendments designed to provoke the unraveling of the broad coalition currently behind the bill. They defeated, for example, a DeLay-Doolittle amendment that would have gutted the bill’s language on phony issue ads.
Anti-reform forces continue to offer “killer amendments,” but House Republican leaders were earlier forced to agree to complete debate and voting on campaign finance reform bills by the August recess. Over the next two weeks, Shays-Meehan supporters must first run through a gauntlet of threatening amendments designed to gut the phony issue ad provisions, undermine the National Voter Registration and Voting Rights Acts which encourage voter registration and participation, and triple the amount an individual is allowed to contribute to a federal candidate. Then reform supporters may confront Republican leaders who are so desperate to defeat reform that they contemplate breaking their public promise for a fair vote by August.
Despite these obstacles, there is now a clear and growing majority for the Shays-Meehan bill in the House and a reasonably good chance that it will pass during the next two weeks. This means that the Senate, where a majority already supports the companion McCain-Feingold bill, will fall under intense pressure to act on reform. With only about 23 legislative days remaining after the Summer recess, Congress would have to move fast to enact final campaign finance reform legislation.
Even as Congress dawdles, the soft money machine hums along with inexorable efficiency. During the first 15 months of the current 1997-98 federal election cycle, the national political parties raised $100.5 million in soft money, largely from corporations and wealthy individuals. That’s an average of $6.7 million a month, $223,000 a day, and $9,292 an hour.
We strongly urge you to editorialize during the next two weeks in opposition to “killer amendments” to the Shays-Meehan bill and in favor of the Republican leadership’s keeping its commitment to complete campaign finance reform legislation before the August recess.