- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Opponents of a Senate-passed campaign finance bill told a House panel yesterday that the legislation is a corrupt regulatory scheme designed to muzzle ordinary citizens.
"I believe it is corrupt to silence critics within 60 days of an election," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said of the pending legislation. "Thats corruption, not reform."
The bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, received a lukewarm reception in its first hearing before the House Administration Committee. The bill would ban large, unregulated donations to political parties known as "soft money," and would restrict advocacy groups from sponsoring political advertisements within 60 days of a federal election.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who led Senate opposition to the bill, called the legislation "stunningly stupid" as he sat next to Mr. Feingold at the committees witness table.
"I apologize for sending it over to you," Mr. McConnell told the House lawmakers.
Similar bills have passed the House four times in the past 10 years, but each time the legislation died in the Senate. With the Senates approval of campaign finance regulations, sponsors said yesterday, now is the best chance ever for Congress to limit the influence of money in politics.
"After many years of struggle, the House finally has a chance to debate campaign finance reform with the knowledge that what you pass has a good chance of being signed into law," Mr. Feingold testified.
President Bush, who has expressed concern that the legislation does not address campaign donations by labor unions, nevertheless has said he likely would sign McCain-Feingold into law.
Some House Democrats are leery of the bills increased limits for individual donations to candidates from $1,000 to $2,500. Republicans have been far more successful in recent years at raising those "hard money" contributions.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, testified yesterday that he didnt know how his fellow Democrats would vote. But he called McCain-Feingold "a golden opportunity."
"We are closer to bipartisan campaign reform than we have been for nearly a decade," Mr. Gephardt told the committee. "From this day forward, we should declare an end to the 24-7 money chase."
But Mr. DeLay urged the committee instead to consider a bill he is co-sponsoring that would allow unlimited campaign donations and require full disclosure of donors.
"You ought to defer to freedom, not more regulations," Mr. DeLay said.
That prompted Rep. Jim Davis, Florida Democrat, to ask Mr. DeLay if too much money already wasnt involved in federal political campaigns.
"Im going to shock you, Mr. Davis," Mr. DeLay replied. "I dont think there is enough money in the campaign system."
He said the amount of money spent on federal elections is only half that spent on cosmetics advertising in the United States annually.
"As long as the system is open and honest and instantaneous, it wont be corrupted," Mr. DeLay said. "Soft money has gotten a bad name by this whole process."
Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican, expressed concern that McCain-Feingold and a companion House bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, would not limit labor unions in using members dues for political donations.
Mr. McConnell agreed.
"Theres nothing in (McCain-Feingold) that would seriously restrict organized labor," Mr. McConnell said. Labor unions send the overwhelming majority of their campaign donations to Democrats.
Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and committee chairman, said he wants to complete work on a campaign finance bill by the end of June. Democrats pushed for a floor vote by Memorial Day, but House Republican leaders plan to air various proposals in two other committees.

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