- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Campaign finance reform supporters said yesterday they remained 11 votes short of the 218 signatures needed to bring their bill up for another vote in the House, as opponents stepped up their lobbying to kill the measure for the second time this year.

A large, bipartisan coalition of advocacy groups, including the Teamsters and other unions, led by House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, were working behind the scenes to deny supporters another chance to bring the bill back to the House floor. And there was some evidence that heavy lobbying by the unions especially was having an impact on some wavering lawmakers who have yet to sign the discharge petition to reconsider the bill.

"We're certainly concerned with the bill's language and its efforts to silence the voices of working families," said Bret Caldwell, chief spokesman for the Teamsters union.

House backers of the bill, which would ban unlimited, "soft money" contributions to the political parties and certain political advocacy broadcast ads in the final two months of a campaign, said they hoped that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert would let them bring up the bill again even if they only came close to the 218 they need.

But a spokesman for Mr. Hastert said yesterday that the House had much more important business to deal with in the final months of this session and that the Illinois Republican had no intention of scheduling the bill for another vote if supporters could not find the 218 needed.

"The legislative calendar is busy and we do not have time to play legislative games," said John Feehery, the speaker's press secretary. "If they get 218, we'll take up the bill. If they don't, we won't."

"The speaker is focused on the important priorities of the American people and has a full legislative schedule that is focused on economic growth, education reform, energy and on the rest of President Bush's agenda. So he's not going to take time out of a busy schedule to take up this issue," Mr. Feehery said.

"We'll fight against any assault on the First Amendment and any effort to do an end run around the legislative process," said Emily Miller, a spokesman for Mr. DeLay.

Supporters of the House bill, similar to the McCain-Feingold measure that passed the Senate earlier this year, held a news conference in front of the Capitol yesterday to show they were nearing the number of signatures needed to bring the bill back to life. The bill was pulled from the floor and sent back to committee after supporters, divided over their strategy, refused to support the rules for debate.

"We're still here. We're not going away. I believe it will come to the floor and I believe that it will pass," said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and chief co-sponsor of the bill.

"No one here likes a discharge petition but in this case, it is a necessary evil," said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat and co-author of the Shays-Meehan bill. "I believe there is enough support to get us to 218."

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland, who signed the discharge petition Wednesday, was the latest Republican to defy Mr. Hastert's leadership.

But supporters of the reform bill acknowledged they are coming up against more obstacles than expected. A number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus oppose the bill because they feel the ban on soft money largely unregulated donations will make the Democratic Party more vulnerable to the superior fund-raising prowess of the Republicans in small-donor contributions.


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