- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

Backers of campaign finance reform said yesterday they still do not have enough votes to win today's scheduled showdown on the House floor.
"We don't have the votes yet, but we're working diligently to get the votes," said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat. He and Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, are leading the House charge to pass a proposal similar to the campaign finance bill that passed the Senate in April.
But opponents of the bills declined to claim victory.
Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and sponsor of House Republican leaders' preferred alternative, called today's vote a "cliffhanger" but said changes being made to Shays-Meehan in an effort to win those last few votes were losing just as many lawmakers.
"These are more than technical. This is a brand new bill. First you had McCain-Feingold, then you had Shays, then you had Shays light, this is Shays III," he said. "They were grasping because they've lost votes and we've gained so much steam. Unfortunately, as they move any part of this new, reconstituted bill, they're going to lose other people. They might gain a few and lose a few on the other end."
As of yesterday afternoon, Mr. Ney said six Republicans who had supported campaign finance restrictions in the past had told him they will support his bill this time around.
The maneuverings also allowed House opponents to threaten the bill with a parliamentary maneuver.
Mr. Shays introduced a dozen new amendments Tuesday, some of which were designed to win over the Senate and others to reassure black Democrats by fostering get-out-the-vote efforts.
But late last night, Republican officials said party leaders had decided to insist on a rule that would require separate votes on each of the 12 provisions. "If they want to make a dozen changes, we'll give them a dozen votes," one Republican official told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Shays said this could kill the bill by making a hopeless muddle of it.
"I am more than willing to live with the consequences of defeat with a process that is fair," Mr. Shays said. "But these are games being played because the stakes are high and the vote is close."
Campaign finance bills have passed the House before, with most Democrats and more than 50 Republicans in support.
But that's all changed this time around, and Mr. Shays, Mr. Meehan and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, spent yesterday lobbying groups that they had to have hoped would already be securely on board including the Congressional Black Caucus, and a group of fence-sitting Republicans.
"We can't stand a lot of erosion on either side, and we're going to work hard to prevent that erosion," Mr. Gephardt said.
But Mr. Ney was in the same meetings, lobbying the same members.
The Shays-Meehan bill bans national parties from raising or spending soft money, and severely restricts state and local parties from raising and spending soft money.
The bill that Mr. Ney is sponsoring with Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat restricts but doesn't end soft money at the national level, and allows states to regulate local and state committees.
Both bills prohibit national parties from running TV ads using soft money. The Shays-Meehan bill regulates interest groups that run ads, while the Ney-Wynn bill only requires greater disclosure about the groups running the ads and their finances.
Mr. Shays and Mr. Meehan have to do more than just cobble together a majority in the House.
Their bill also has to be acceptable to a majority in the Senate, since they want to avoid having differing bills to go to a conference between the chambers to iron out differences.
They fear the House Republican leadership would stack the conference to produce a bill that doesn't come close to Shays-Meehan or the Senate bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin.
Mr. McCain, showing the volatility of the House vote, sent a nationwide Internet appeal yesterday to supporters of his failed 2000 presidential campaign to pressure 41 named Republican House members to vote for the Shays-Meehan bill.
In an e-mail, Mr. McCain asked for telephone calls and e-mails to lawmakers ranging from conservative Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia to liberal Rep. Constance A. Morella of Maryland who voted for a different version of Shays-Meehan in the last Congress.
"We are asking you to contact these representatives and tell them not to be fooled into voting for the Ney bill," Mr. McCain said in the communication sent and paid for by his political action committee, Straight Talk America.
"Ney's legislation would only cap soft money contributions at rates so high that would render the law ineffective," Mr. McCain's message said. "Please call and urge these members of Congress to vote for Shays-Meehan. Thank you. Senator John McCain."
Even if they defeat the Ney-Wynn alternative, Mr. Shays and Mr. Meehan have another worry the amendments could further splinter support for their bill.
For example, one amendments would allow $20,000 contributions to national parties to work for voter registration and turnout. But Republican officials said those donations could be tax-deductible, setting up a system where elected officials could solicit money from rich contributors, who would then get partial reimbursement through their taxes.
Another is an amendment to change "hard money" contribution limits from individuals from $1,000 for House candidates and $2,000 for Senate candidates to an even $2,000 for both. If that passes, some who would otherwise support the bill will vote against it.
* George Archibald contributed to this report.

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