- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

Campaign finance reform was a legislative casualty of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but backers say they're gearing up to push the bill next year.
A reform bill passed the Senate in April, but the House version lies in limbo while backers try to collect signatures of a majority of members, thus forcing a vote on it. The signature drive, started in July, picked up steam during the August recess but crashed after the attacks.
"We started to do really well, then we had something happen on 9-11, and we totally shut down," said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and one of the chief sponsors of the bill along with Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat.
Now, the effort to revive the bill has begun again.
Mr. Shays and other supporters such as Common Cause, an advocacy group that supports reform, will try to convince about 20 holdouts to sign the petition by holding rallies and meeting with newspaper editors in those members' districts during the winter recess.
Backers said there are at least 218 members the magic number for a successful petition. Some don't want to be on the petition, but others don't want to be numbers 211 through 217. Several have offered to be the 218th signature.
Asked about prospects for the bill, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, put it simply: "If they get the signatures, obviously we'll have to deal with it."
After several years of reform bills passing the House only to fail in the Senate, supporters, including Arizona Republican John McCain, planned to ride a wave of media attention from last year's presidential campaigns to win Senate passage. The bill headed back to the House, where the Republican leadership had promised a vote, and came to the floor in July
But the House Republican leadership, which generally opposes the measure, threw a procedural curve to the bill's supporters by constructing rules of debate unfavorable to the bill. Faced with having their bill fail, reform supporters instead voted against the rules of debate, sending the bill to a legislative limbo.
The House leadership said reformers had missed their chance, and declared the issue dead. So backers resorted to the signature drive, called a "discharge petition," to try to force another vote under more favorable rules. They were eight votes shy of the 218 needed to succeed, when the attacks pushed the issue out of everyone's mind.
Since then, just one member Stephen F. Lynch, a newly elected Democrat from Massachusetts has signed the petition.
The Shays-Meehan bill would ban national parties from raising or spending large-money contributions called "soft money," place caps on how much soft money state and local parties can raise, and regulate how they spend it.
Republican leaders, who say the bill would eviscerate political parties, are pushing an alternative that would restrict rather than end soft money at the national level and would leave states to regulate local and state committees.


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