- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Democratic and Republican leaders yesterday dueled to secure undecided votes for today's campaign finance showdown, and neither side was willing to guarantee victory.
"This one's unpredictable," said Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and sponsor of one of two alternatives being pushed by Republican leaders. He said many of the undecided are waiting to see how the competing bills are amended.
Most Democrats will back a bill sponsored by Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat. It bans national political parties from receiving soft money, the unlimited contributions that unions, corporations and individuals donate for purposes other than expressly advocating a candidate's election or defeat.
The bill allows small soft-money donations to state parties for limited purposes, and restricts how parties and outside interest groups may advertise in federal elections.
Most Republicans, meanwhile, will back their leadership on two bills and up to 10 amendments designed to siphon support away from the Shays-Meehan bill.
All sides expect some bill to pass. The Republicans' challenge is to try to alter the bill enough to make it unpalatable to the Senate, which would force a committee between the two chambers where the bill could die. Democratic leaders are trying to fend off those amendments.
Republican leaders are expected to offer amendments that make the bill effective this year and that entirely ban soft money, including the small donations to state parties still allowed under Shays-Meehan.
Originally, Shays-Meehan backers had wanted the bill to take effect 30 days after it is signed into law, but yesterday they said with midterm elections due this year it's too late to change. They are proposing the bill take effect after the election.
Republicans say that's disingenuous, arguing that Democrats are trying to delay the bill because they realize they are in a worse position to accommodate the law this year.
Republican House aides said the White House has not aggressively lobbied on the issue. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday clarified what the president wants to see in any bill that reaches his desk: bans on soft money from corporations and unions but not necessarily from individuals; better disclosure; and a higher cap on "hard dollar" contributions.
"The president has made it clear to all those in Congress who ask him that he will sign into law something if in his judgment it improves the system," Mr. Fleischer said.
Even though neither side had a hard count of supporters, both sides were lobbying hard.
Democrats pushed their version of the bill, with Mr. Meehan and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt inviting reporters and television cameras into Mr. Gephardt's office to watch as the two called members to drum up support for their bill.
Mr. Gephardt said between 20 and 30 Democrats remained undecided yesterday afternoon.
One key target group for them are members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Some caucus members are concerned that Shays-Meehan would hurt minority candidates who depend on the Democratic party for "get out the vote" efforts.
The Republican National Committee sent a memo to Republican House members Monday laying out both the committee's and the president's priorities for campaign finance and stressing the committee's opposition to parts of the Shays-Meehan bill.
RNC Chairman Marc Racicot and Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver have been calling a list of about 50 Republican members and "gently twisting arms," according to one party aide.
Under the rules of debate passed yesterday the House will vote on which version of the bill - Shays-Meehan or one of the two Republican bills will be the base bill for the purposes of debate. Both sides then will have a chance to offer amendments to the bill.
Mr. Shays and Mr. Meehan said they will offer several amendments they promised to supporters in order to have a full debate.


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