- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 2001

It must have been quite a scene in House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's office last week. There was Republican Sen. John McCain plotting strategy with the opposition party's leaders as the titanic vote on campaign-finance reform rapidly approached.

Having spent the last several years heroically at least in his eyes waging the lonely battle for campaign reform amid a sea of corrupt scoundrels within his own party, Mr. McCain had finally caught a glimpse of the promised land this year. In both 1998 and 1999, the House had passed versions of his campaign-finance legislation, but the issue died after Republican opponents in the Senate successfully waged filibusters against Mr. McCain's bill. Of course, one reason the Shays-Meehan bill passed so comfortably in the House in earlier years was the certain prospect that the Senate would kill Shays-Meehan's counterpart, the McCain-Feingold bill. This year, Senate opponents declined to filibuster McCain-Feingold, and the bill passed in April, though, interestingly, not by a filibuster-proof margin.

All of a sudden, the essentially free votes House Democrats had routinely cast for Shays-Meehan would have real consequences. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Hispanic Caucus, for example, became justifiably concerned over the consequences for their voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives that were funded by soft money, which Shays-Meehan would prohibit. In the meantime, the Republican leadership enthusiastically endorsed the Ney-Wynn campaign-finance bill, which was co-sponsored by Democrat Albert Wynn, who happened to be in charge of the CBC's task force on campaign finance. Ney-Wynn would limit soft-money contributions to the political parties' national, congressional and senatorial campaign committees to $75,000 for each committee. And Ney-Wynn did not obliterate the free-speech guarantee of the First Amendment the way Shays-Meehan had. As support for Ney-Wynn increased, support for Shays-Meehan declined, and nobody knew which of the measures would pass.

Proponents of Shays-Meehan were also concerned about passing a bill sufficiently different from McCain-Feingold that a conference committee would be required to settle the differences. Supposedly, they feared that the corrupt scoundrels would kill "reform" in conference, though what might actually have happened there would have been a resuscitation of the First Amendment. Thus, to avoid a conference, Shays-Meehan advocates insisted that they be entitled to bundle 14 changes, some of which were quite controversial, into a single amendment. The Republican-controlled Rules Committee determined that each of the changes would have to have its own up-or-down vote.

Throughout Thursday, Mr. Gephardt negotiated with House Speaker Denny Hastert, who eventually agreed to allow a single vote on all 14 amendments under the condition that supporters of the Ney-Wynn bill be given the same opportunity to devise their own single package of changes in order to increase support for their bill. Amazingly, Mr. Gephardt audaciously insisted that he be given several hours to review the amendment to Ney-Wynn and to discuss it with his Democratic caucus.

During an emergency Republican meeting, the caucus refused to concede to Mr. Gephardt's demand. Then, a vote was taken on the original rule that would have required all of the changes to Shays-Meehan be considered separately. Fearing he could not prevail, Mr. McCain argued in Mr. Gephardt's office to defeat this rule, which would have given him the open debate he claims to want. The rule was defeated, and Shays-Meehan was shelved. And the people who killed it were its ostensible supporters.

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