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House Speaker Stalls Campaign Finance Reform Vote Republican Reformers Should Demand Immediate Action By Signing A Discharge Petition


May 25,1999

Contact: Steve Weissman or Dan O’Sullivan (202) 546-4996


House Speaker Stalls Campaign Finance Reform Vote

Republican Reformers Should Demand Immediate Action

By Signing A Discharge Petition

It is time for Republican House members who say they support campaign finance reform to sign a discharge petition in order to promptly put the legislation on the floor. Last week, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) turned down pleas from 29 House Republicans to reconsider his timetable for action on reform legislation. Hastert wants to kill campaign finance reform by delaying consideration of the popular, bipartisan Shays-Meehan bill (which passed by 252-179 last August) until at least mid-September.

If the House does not pass the bill by the July 4th recess, it is doubtful there will be enough time for the Senate (which has been waiting for the House to act first because of strong support for the bill there) to have its own debate and vote in 1999. The bipartisan Senate majority in favor of the companion McCain-Feingold bill needs time before the end-of-the-session rush to pass urgent appropriations bills to overcome an expected filibuster by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Unfortunately, Speaker Hastert is following in the path of his political mentor, House Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), who employed similar delaying tactics to kill campaign finance reform last year.

It is not enough for erstwhile Republican supporters of reform to agonize publicly for weeks about the political costs of offending Mr. Hastert. This is an issue of conscience, one fundamental to the health of our entire democratic system, and the Speaker’s purpose is crystal clear. It is time for Republican reformers to exert political leadership and the only way to do so is to sign — and urge their colleagues to sign — the discharge petition immediately.

Please editorialize, requesting pro-reform Republicans from your state or locality on the attached list to immediately sign the discharge petition so that the House can hold a debate and votes on campaign finance reform legislation before the July 4th recess.

The campaign finance “discharge petition” was initiated by conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats on April 14 to allow votes on reform alternatives by the July 4th recess. If a majority of 218 House members sign the discharge petition, House action will automatically occur within a few weeks. Already, 195 out of 211 Democrats plus one Independent have signed on.

Last year, the signatures of just a dozen Republicans were sufficient to pressure Speaker Gingrich into scheduling a debate, though he hypocritically strung it out over three months to preempt Senate action. This year, the 54 Republicans who voted for Shays-Meehan in 1998 (and the two others who at least signed the discharge petition) must stand up immediately and assure a different outcome.

Hastert himself has shown the way. In an interview with the Associated Press May 15th, he said, “If that [September]’s not soon enough, they have a right” to sign the discharge petition.

Should Congress fail to act on this legislation for the third year in a row, unlimited “soft money” contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to political parties could double from the $262 million contributed in the 1996 elections to more than $500 million in 2000. And corporations and unions could again flood the TV and radio air waves with phony “issue ads” that are really campaign ads but evade the disclosure requirements and contribution limits of federal law.

Every day average citizens have less of a voice in Washington because of the collapse of the campaign finance law Congress enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal 25 years ago. Major decisions on consumer protection, public health, gun control, Social Security reform, environmental protection, taxes and so on — are unfairly influenced by special interests with deep pockets.

According to the Federal Election Commission, 80% of the $216 million in soft money contributed during the 1997-98 election cycle ($124 million to the Republican party and $92 million to the Democrats) came from corporations or individuals who could afford to give more than $200. It is these large donors, working in concert with the political parties, who regularly set the political agenda in Washington.

It is time for sincere Republican reformers to back their words with action.