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Campaign Finance Reform Round One:

Campaign Finance Reform Round One: Senators Snowe, Jeffords, Specter, Chafee, And Hutchinson Are Now On The Hot Seat

Alert for Editorial Writers and Columnists

The Senate took two votes on campaign finance reform today. First, having failed to line up 51 votes to defeat a planned motion to table his poison pill amendment on labor union political activities, Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) forced the Senate to vote instead on a motion to end debate on the amendment. That motion failed by a 52-48 vote. Sixty votes are needed to win such a “cloture vote.” In the second vote, eight Republicans joined all 45 Democrats to vote in favor of a cloture motion on the underlying McCain-Feingold bill. Again, because 60 votes are needed to invoke cloture, the motion failed.

Additional votes on cloture motions are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. While the procedural posture of this debate is very complicated, the message from today’s votes and the negotiations leading up to them is not. Five Republican Senators who voted for cloture on the McCain-Feingold bill — Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Jim Jeffords (R-VT), Arlen Specter (R-PA), John Chafee (R-RI), and Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) — have it in their power to move the debate forward by agreeing to vote to table the Lott Amendment. Their failure to declare their opposition to the Lott Amendment stands in the way of the debate on campaign finance reform going forward. We urge you to editorialize in favor of reform by asking these Senators to defeat the Lott Amendment and allow debate on the McCain-Feingold bill to go forward.

The intent of the Lott Amendment is to kill campaign finance reform. Senator Lott made that very clear over a week ago when he announced that he would bring the McCain-Feingold bill up for debate, but would offer his own amendment which, if passed, would force Democrats to filibuster the bill. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Fred Thompson (R-TN), and Susan Collins (R-ME) have publicly stated that although they support the Lott Amendment in principle they will vote against it because they know that it will kill the McCain-Feingold bill.

Senators Snowe, Jeffords, Specter, Chafee, and Hutchinson face the same choice. Although they voted for cloture on the McCain-Feingold bill (a pro-reform vote), they have not committed to vote against the Lott Amendment. They simply cannot have it both ways. If they want reform to move forward, they must break with the Majority Leader and vote to table his amendment.

Senator Snowe has been working on a compromise amendment that would apply the principle of the Lott Amendment equally to corporations, unions, and other organizations. But since Senator Lott has “filled the amendment tree,” the only way that Senator Snowe’s proposal can be considered is if the Lott Amendment is defeated.

Another cloture vote on the Lott Amendment is scheduled for Thursday. It is time for Senators Snowe, Jeffords, Specter, Chafee, and Hutchinson to show that their votes for cloture on the McCain-Feingold bill are not empty political gestures. If they really want reform, they must declare their opposition to the Lott Amendment before the cloture vote on Thursday.