- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

Republicans, anticipating that some form of campaign finance reform is likely to pass the House next week, are preparing to offer amendments to "better" the bill rather than offer "poison-pill" amendments to make the legislation unpassable.
"I think right now we're looking to make sure if this thing becomes law we want to have a workable bill. It's not a workable bill," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Supporters of campaign finance reform have always feared that the use of "poison-pill" amendments would make the bill unpalatable to a majority of House members. But Republicans, apparently conceding that some type of bill is likely to pass, are now thinking their best chance is to try to remove the parts of the legislation they object to most.
"I think the whole poison-pill idea is almost dead," said one Republican leadership official, who said the focus now is on "realistic amendments" that will make the bill more workable.
But Republicans also know that the more amendments they can attach, the less likely the bill will be acceptable to a majority in the Senate. In that case, the two chambers would convene a conference committee to work out differences, and campaign finance reform supporters say the bill would probably die in committee.
"A conference, frankly, would probably be a black hole as this legislation is concerned," said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican.
The bill is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday. If the bill does pass Congress, the president has said he would sign some form of campaign finance reform.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, would ban "soft money," the large contributions to political parties that go to issue-advocacy ads and organization activities. It would also restrict the way interest groups are able to run ads before an election.
Republicans still plan to offer a substitute bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, and Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, that would cap instead of ban soft-money contributions to parties.
But both sides of the debate agree that the bigger threat to campaign finance reform legislation will be amendments to alter the bill so that it is substantially different from the version that passed the Senate last year with 59 votes.
Another debate will be over the bill's effective date. As written, the bill would take effect before the elections this November but Democratic leaders have said they may want to amend the bill to begin next year.
If the bill does pass, both parties say they will be ready.
Maria Cardona, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said the committee has focused on building a larger list of hard-money donors and, for the first time in 20 years, raised more hard money than soft money last year.
On the Republican side, Mr. Davis said his committee has been brainstorming ideas for what to do if the bill becomes law including pre-buying media time with soft money between the period the bill passes and takes effect.
He said that while he thinks that strategy is legal, the likely criticism from the press would hurt Republicans.
However, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois warned his fellow Republicans that the bill as written would cost them the House in the 2002 elections.
Yet if the bill does pass, Republican leaders have vowed to make the legislation effective this year.
"We want it this year we're ready for it this year, the Democrats aren't. We have the hard dollars on hand, the Democrats don't," Mr. Davis said.
But Kim Rubey, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said if that's the case, she wondered "why they didn't vote to support it over the summer when they had the opportunity to enact campaign finance reform for this cycle."

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