- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

After winning an early-morning victory in the House yesterday, supporters of campaign-finance reform said they have the votes to pass their bill quickly through the Senate and send it to the president.
But President Bush has not said whether he will sign the measure, and Republican opponents said they will block the Senate process if they believe the legislation gives an unfair advantage to Democrats.
"The president has said he has several principles that he wanted to see satisfied in campaign-finance reform," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The [House] legislation satisfies some of those principles, not all, and the president will wait to see what the Senate does, and then I think you'll have more on the topic."
After 15 hours of debate, the House passed the bill, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, in a 240-189 vote at 2:42 a.m yesterday. The Shays-Meehan bill prohibits national political parties from taking large, unregulated "soft money" contributions and restricts the amount of soft money state and local parties may receive. The bill also prohibits parties from running "issue ads" and limits the way outside interest groups can run ads relating to candidates for federal office.
A coalition of mostly House Democrats and several dozen Republicans beat back 11 Republican-sponsored amendments that could have derailed the bill. Reform supporters felt they had to pass a bill similar to the one the Senate passed last year to keep the legislation from being killed in a House-Senate conference committee.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and the leading opponent of campaign-finance reform, said he believes that part of the bill is unconstitutional. Mr. McConnell has said he will be the lead plaintiff in challenging the bill. Other groups opposed to the legislation are lining up to join him, contending that the Shays-Meehan bill violates freedom of speech.
"We are ready, willing and able to sue," said Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation. "Under Shays-Meehan, the authors of The Federalist Papers may have suffered prison time and heavy fines, an irony that underscores the fundamental nature of political speech."
With the bill now headed to the Senate, Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, promised to bring the legislation quickly to the floor of the chamber next week when Congress returns after the Presidents Day holiday.
"No responsible argument can be made that you need to go to conference as a result of legislation passed last night," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and the legislation's chief backer in the Senate.
But Mr. McConnell said he wants to review the House bill before deciding how to proceed.
One option would be to filibuster the legislation until he gets rules for debate more to his liking. Another option is to add an amendment to the bill, forcing it into conference. But that would require the support of 41 senators.
"If 41 Republicans were to conclude this is a terrible, terrible bill for Republicans, then I don't think it will be any problem getting 41 to force a conference," Mr. McConnell said.
But Mr. McCain disputed that, saying he believes pro-reform supporters have the votes to close debate and move to a vote.
Mr. Daschle's pledge to move quickly on the bill was criticized by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who said the Senate should pass an energy bill and an economic-stimulus package first.
"It's appalling that he holds up important national business but commits to lightning-speed action on campaign-finance overhaul," Mr. Armey said. He accused Mr. Daschle of trying to satisfy his "appetite for political advantage."
The Shays-Meehan bill will not take effect until after this November's congressional elections. Both parties have said they'll be ready for it.
"We've looked at it; we think it plays to our strengths," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Mr. Davis said that Republicans have an advantage in raising "hard money," small contributions that can be used in campaigns for federal office.
Mr. Davis said Republicans have been pushing to raise hard money in case the bill took effect immediately. But with the effective date delayed until after the election, he said they also will go after soft-money contributions.
"You'd be an idiot not to," he said, adding that he thinks it will be a bumper year for soft-money donations because donors "know you're not hitting them up next year."
Kim Rubey, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said they, too, have been working to increase their list of hard-dollar donors but that they will continue to raise soft money for this year's elections.
Mr. Davis said his biggest concern is that the courts will strike down parts of the bill as unconstitutional particularly the provisions that regulate how interest groups may advertise in the days leading up to an election. He fears that if that provision is struck down, labor unions a strong Democratic constituency will have free rein to run ads.
In the House yesterday, some conservative Republicans were still angry about the passage of the Shays-Meehan legislation and called for a change to party rules that would punish Republicans who buck party leadership on certain future procedural measures.
But others said there will be no retribution for the campaign-finance vote and that no rule changes are likely to be made concerning future procedural votes.
"That's never been [House Speaker] Denny Hastert's style. He uses the honey approach a lot more than he does the stick approach," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference.

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