- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

The House Administration Committee yesterday sent two competing campaign finance reform bills to the House floor.

Backers of the McCain-Feingold version fought to keep their coalition together while Republican leaders tried to gain support for their own measure.

"We have never ever been this close, so the stakes are very, very high, and our opponents recognize the fact that the stakes are very, very high," said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, as he and Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, introduced the newest version of their bill to reporters.

The Shays-Meehan bill is a slightly different version of the bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, that passed the Senate in April.

Shays-Meehan would ban "soft-money" contributions to political parties and prevent interest group issue ads within 60 days of an election, like McCain-Feingold. But unlike the Senate bill, which doubles the limit for "hard-money" contributions to House and Senate candidates to $2,000, Shays-Meehan keeps the House limit at $1,000, indexed for inflation.

That provision is aimed at assuaging the concerns of minority lawmakers and liberal Democrats who fear their party and its "get-out-the-vote" programs will be harmed in comparison with Republicans, who consistently raise more hard money.

Opponents of Shays-Meehan now have their own bill, introduced yesterday by Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican.

Rather than ban soft money, the Ney measure limits contributions to national parties to $75,000 and restricts how the money can be spent. It allows interest groups to run ads without restrictions but with more disclosure, and it keeps the hard-money limit at $1,000, indexed for inflation. It also lacks the criminal penalties provided by the McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan bills.

The House Administration Committee, which Mr. Ney chairs, voted along party lines to report the Ney bill favorably and the Shays-Meehan bill unfavorably. But in an unusual move, Republican leaders have agreed to let sponsors of the Shays-Meehan bill alter their bill before it gets to the floor following next week's July 4 recess.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer from Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, acknowledged the Shays-Meehan bill is still in flux as sponsors walk a fine line.

Shays-Meehan supporters want a bill that's close enough to the McCain-Feingold measure in hopes that the Senate can accept it without demanding a conference committee where, they fear, the bill would be gutted or made unacceptable to one chamber or the other.

But sponsors also have to fashion a bill that can pass the House, and that is proving tougher than in years past, when the bill passed the House easily, only to fail in the Senate. That's proving tougher this year.

The Congressional Black Caucus discussed Shays-Meehan Wednesday but didn't take a position, though some members are looking closely at supporting the Ney bill instead. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also hasn't taken a position. The caucus chairman, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, Texas Democrat, said Hispanic lawmakers support the intent of Shays-Meehan but have some concerns about raising the $1,000 hard-money limit and about preventing parties from using soft money altogether.

Even the three Democrats on the Administration Committee said their votes yesterday weren't necessarily support for Shays-Meehan as it stands now, but rather support to get something to the floor for further debate.

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