- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

The House last night beat back several Republican amendments designed to derail a Democrat-supported campaign-finance bill that would ban large, unregulated donations to political parties.
House Democratic leaders were predicting an early-morning final passage for the bill, which would impose the most sweeping regulations on campaign donations since the aftermath of Watergate.
After a day of furious lobbying and last-minute charges that a loophole in the bill would benefit Democrats, House Republican leaders expressed resignation as they lost a series of votes on amendments.
"We're not cracking the Republican coalition," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "The way things are going, it doesn't look good."
Several amendments did pass, including one that removes a provision in the Senate-passed bill on the rates that candidates must pay for television advertising. Backers were hoping the change wouldn't cause problems when the bill returns to the Senate.
Another amendment passed, 218-211, that doubles the amount of "hard money" regulated contributions individuals may contribute to House campaigns from $2,000 to $4,000 per election cycle.
A finance reform bill passed the Senate last year, 59-41, and the House wanted to return a similar bill back to them to avoid a conference committee. The bill's sponsors, Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, said a House-Senate conference would kill their bill.
Yesterday, supporters of the Democrat-backed bill said the Enron scandal gave them momentum going into the debate.
"This president knows what we all know there is a cloud over the Capitol and the White House because of the Enron scandal. And the American people are demanding that cloud be removed," Mr. Meehan said.
Republican leaders' strategy yesterday was to offer a series of amendments that would have broken apart the Shays-Meehan coalition and forced the bill to conference.
They came closest on an amendment that would have exempted advocacy ads on guns from the bill's regulations. The National Rifle Association, which opposed the underlying bill and supported the amendment, weighed in, telling members they would consider the vote when scoring representatives' record on guns. But the amendment was rejected by a 218-209 margin.
Earlier in the day Republicans thought they had an opening when they discovered last-minute changes to Shays-Meehan that they believed opened up a multimillion-dollar loophole for Democrats to exchange soft money for hard money.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, called the provision "veto bait" and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warned that President Bush wanted the provision removed.
But the bill's backers said they didn't think the provision in question opened up the loophole. Democratic sources said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, was working with Reps. Shays; Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican; and Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican, on a parliamentary procedure to clarify the issue last night.
Parties now can raise unlimited amounts of soft money from individuals and groups as long as the funds are not used to advocate directly the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Hard money must be raised in small amounts but can be used directly in federal elections.
Opponents said parts of the bill would regulate political speech and are thus unconstitutional; the end result, they add, would be to eviscerate the current political party system.
Last year, national Republican political committees raised $77.6 million in hard money and $65.8 million in soft money. As of the end of the year, Republicans had $53.5 million in hard money on hand, and $25.2 million in soft money.
National Democratic committees raised $31.9 million in hard money and $38.1 million in soft money in 2001, and had $13.7 million in hard money and $20.8 million in soft money on hand.
The vote marked another struggle between House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, who put considerable muscle behind passing the bill, and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who told his fellow party members the bill will cost them the majority in Congress.
"I happen to think this day and this vote is the most important day that I will spend in 25 years in the Congress," Mr. Gephardt said at a morning news conference yesterday.
But Mr. Hastert was critical of the way Democratic leaders, who forced a vote on campaign finance only after beginning a petition drive, have operated.
"The problem with this bill is that they've constantly bought people off, piece by piece by piece," he said. "The bill has never been the same, every iteration that comes out."
Apart from the gun ads proposal, the House rejected a Republican-offered amendment to exempt from the bill's regulations communications protected by the First Amendment. Other unsuccessful amendments would have exempted communications "pertaining to workers, farmers, families and individuals," ads about "veterans, military personnel or seniors," and communications on civil rights matters.
Members also turned back two alternate Republican bills, one of which would have banned all soft money and the other of which was the campaign-finance bill that passed the House in 1998.
Supporters said they had to vote against the alternates and the amendments because passing them would have derailed the main bill.
The votes yesterday clearly touched members personally, since all of them were elected under the current system and the bills and amendments were shaped by their personal experiences.


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