- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

The Shays-Meehan campaign-finance "reform" legislation, which passed the House last week, now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation (McCain-Feingold) passed last year by a 59-41 margin, one vote short of the 60 required to end a filibuster and force a vote. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has promised to make the legislation the Senate's first order of business next week when Congress returns from its recess.

In order to avoid a conference committee, which would be required to reconcile any differences between House and Senate versions, Mr. Daschle plans to hold an up-or-down vote on the House-passed bill in the Senate. The majority leader claims to have enough votes to overcome a filibuster. Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate's staunchest advocate of free speech, has not yet decided how he will proceed against Shays-Meehan. At the least, Mr. McConnell should threaten to filibuster until Mr. Daschle rounds up 60 public votes against such a tactic.

By deploying the highly unusual strategy of bypassing a conference committee to reconcile such complex and controversial legislation, Mr. Daschle essentially seeks to freeze President Bush out of the process. It is during a bill's conference phase that presidents can use their veto threat most effectively to expunge the features of legislation that they consider most damaging.

Regrettably, Mr. Bush neglected to use the White House bully pulpit while the unconstitutional Shays-Meehan bill was working its way through the House. Unaccountably, the president gave free reign to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, whom Mr. Bush thoroughly throttled in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries that "Johnny-One-Note" used to showcase his post-Keating Five "reform" agenda. However, now that Mr. Daschle has let it be known that he fully intends to deny the president the time-honored role for the White House in conference, Mr. Bush should accept Mr. Daschle's challenge and threaten to veto Shays-Meehan, as written. While Mr. Daschle may have 60 votes in the Senate to defeat a filibuster, he certainly does not have the two-thirds majority required to override a presidential veto.

Shays-Meehan sticks its thumb in the president's eye in several respects. Unlike an earlier version of McCain-Feingold, the bill has no "paycheck protection" provision, which the president forcefully endorsed as a candidate, and which would codify in legislation the Supreme Court's Beck decision prohibiting unions from using their members' dues money for political activity without the members' permission. Mr. Bush also demanded that the 28-year-old hard-money contribution limits that were passed in 1974 be updated to account for inflation since then. By that standard, the limits of contributions from individuals to federal candidates would increase from $1,000 per election to $3,500. Shays-Meehan only increased individual limits and only to $2,000. Violating the First Amendment, Shays-Meehan drastically restricts the rights of interest groups to play a role in today's TV-dominated electoral politics.

Having raised more than $100 million in relatively small hard-money individual contributions for his 2000 primary race, Mr. Bush will surely benefit from Shays-Meehan's doubling of that category's limit. That alone gives him the high ground to veto Shays-Meehan until Congress gets the entire campaign-finance "reform" package right. If not in defense of the First Amendment, then when?

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