- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

Campaign finance reform's success or failure this week will come down to what kind of coalition Republican leaders can build to derail the bill, which party leaders see as endangering their control of Congress.
"Wednesday's going to be very, very tight. Super Bowl tight," Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican and his party's chief deputy whip, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday.
The fight is over a bill sponsored by Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat. It would prohibit national parties from collecting "soft money," the uncapped contributions parties spend on issue ads and organization activities, and would severely limit states' collection and use of soft money.
The bill also would limit how interest groups may advertise before an election, and would require better disclosure of donors.
Republican leaders expect some bill to pass, so they must create a combination of Republicans who oppose Shays-Meehan and Republicans and Democrats who conditionally support the bill but want to see changes. Despite the focus on Republican centrists, Republicans say the unknown factor is how many Democrats will vote against Democratic leadership.
"We'd be hard-pressed to make significant changes to the bill with Republican votes. There's got to be a realization on behalf of both parties," said one House Republican leadership aide.
In 1999, the last time a campaign finance bill came up in the House, it passed 252-177, with 54 Republicans supporting it and 13 Democrats opposing it. But both sides agreed that was a "free vote" everyone knew that bill would die in the Senate.
This time, a bill already has passed the Senate, and that has some House Democrats and Republicans rethinking their earlier votes.
"What I think is so different about campaign finance reform in the year 2002 is for the first time in about 10 years or more, this debate is real, because they know there's a president who's prepared to sign something if it improves the system," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said last week.
That leaves the Democratic leadership with the task of holding its coalition to get the 218 votes needed to assure passage.
"I'm sure the effort on the part of the Republican leadership is to grind that number down so that we can't win," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said last week. "This is not complicated. If we are in the neighborhood of 195 [Democrats supporting the bill] and [Republicans] are in the neighborhood of 20 or 25 [in favor], you are right on the margin."
About 25 Republicans are committed to the basics of Shays-Meehan, said Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican and a supporter of the bill. They can be counted on to defend it against most amendments though they split on the question of the date the measure would take effect.
Another 15 or so Republicans have supported reform in the past, along with several freshmen who campaigned with Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has been a high-profile leader on the issue. Some of them have sided with their party leadership, but a majority say they are keeping an open mind on amendments.
But those are counterbalanced by the 38-member Congressional Black Caucus, of which about half are undecided or leaning against the bill, said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat and a caucus member who opposed Shays-Meehan. Democratic leaders are considering ways to keep those members on board the bill, including setting up funds within the party to concentrate on voter-organization efforts in urban districts.
An undetermined number of other Democrats also are on the fence among them Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
His vote is being watched because he is the past chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the organization charged with electing Democrats to the House. Though he voted for bills in 1998 and 1999, he has said he has concerns about this year's bill. His spokesman said Friday that Mr. Frost has not said how he plans to vote.


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