House Republican leaders are considering a total ban on “soft money” as an 11th-hour amendment to derail campaign finance reform legislation.
Aides said the move, suggested by several lawmakers including Deputy Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, will probably be one of several amendments party leaders push in an effort to splinter support for the underlying bill. They hope to change the bill enough to make it unpalatable to backers or to force a conference committee with the Senate, where the bill can be altered or killed.
But while Republicans were trying to drum up support for their efforts, those pushing for reform were lobbying fence-sitters to stay true to the main bill.
One of the sponsors of the Senate-passed bill, John McCain, Arizona Republican, continued his own last-minute lobbying. He said he has been talking to members of both parties: “I’ve been calling members, obviously.”
Mr. McCain also met with House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, yesterday evening to discuss strategy for tomorrow’s floor debate.
Republican House leaders generally oppose the pending finance reform bill, and Democratic leaders generally support it. Both sides will have to tip their hands today and announce what amendments they plan to introduce. Both agree some bill is likely to pass, so the bill’s future rests on which amendments pass.
A Republican attempt to ban soft money outright will probably be among the amendments offered. The bill that reform advocates are expected to support, which passed the Senate with 59 votes last year, would allow state and local parties to continue to take capped soft money contributions as long as the money is spent on organization and registration.
Republican leaders say if advocates want to restrict soft money, ban it all.
Reformers say that’s a disengenuous way to try to splinter support, and they believe they can defeat that amendment.
“I don’t think it’s going to be cut out,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and one of the bill’s chief sponsors.
Another debate is over the bill’s effective date.
As originally written, it would take effect 30 days after the president’s signature. But Mr. Shays and Democratic leaders have said they may make the bill take effect after the November election. They argue there won’t be enough time to implement the new system this year, and they acknowledge the bill gains more votes if the effective date is pushed back.
Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, said he would prefer that the bill take effect this year, but “if the president were to sign this bill some time in April, there’s a question how long it would take the [Federal Election Commission] to promulgate rules and regulations.”
But Ian Stirton, a spokesman for the FEC, said they don’t need to have any regulations ready beforehand and the law can take effect on the date the bill says.
“The law goes into effect whenever Congress determines,” he said, noting that in the past, laws have taken effect and the commission issues regulations and advisory opinions as questions arise.
Republicans say the effort to delay the effective date is purely partisan, since Republicans are in a better position with respect to hard money this year than Democrats.
“It makes it look very hypocritical and very partisan to partially ban soft money, just not in this election,” said one House Republican aide, who called the issue the “soft underbelly” of Democratic efforts to pass the bill.