TOPICS > Politics

Background: Money Politics

February 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, the House of Representatives takes up the campaign finance bill. Kwame Holman begins with some background.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: It puts more of a premium on grass roots person-to-person turnout politics which we may or may not win.

KWAME HOLMAN: House minority leader Dick Gephardt and fellow Democrat Martin Meehan were at it again this afternoon, trying to round up votes for what’s expected to be a two-day marathon toward an uncertain outcome on campaign finance reform.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: It’s fair. It makes an awful lot of sense. It’s fair for all the interest groups.

KWAME HOLMAN: It was the height of the summer the last time Meehan, co-author of the main campaign finance reform bill, saw his legislation before the House. Under consideration then was a version of his bill that had been passed by the Senate.

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I had a distinguished senator say we were going to get screwed. And I said, “no.” He was right. (Laughter)

KWAME HOLMAN: But House members fell into acrimony, and eventually, stalemate. Republican leaders pulled the bill after the House failed even to agree on the rules for debate. Democrats said Republican leaders sabotaged reform.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I mean, if the Republicans who favor this bill thought this was a fair process, they would have voted for the rule, and they did not.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans responded in kind.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Look at the facts, and if you’re intellectually honest with the facts, you’ll find that the people who brought down the rules so the bill would not come to the floor, it was the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives. Thank you very much.

KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker Dennis Hastert, who opposes the main campaign reform bill, declared the issue had had its day in the House and he would not bring it up again. But that changed January 24, when supporters of the measure got the last of 218 signatures– a majority of the 435 members– on a discharge petition. The petition forced the Speaker to bring the bill to the floor.

It’s called Shays-Meehan, after Connecticut Republican Christopher shays and Massachusetts’ Meehan, who have worked for the last five years to ban soft money, the unregulated, unlimited contributions to national political parties. Shays-Meehan also would prohibit advocacy groups from using soft money to put on ads that identify a federal candidate within 60 days of an election.

Republican leaders this week also made room for a vote on an alternative to Shays-Meehan offered by Ohio Republican Bob Ney and Maryland Democrat Albert Wynn. The Ney-Wynn proposal allows soft money contributions to the political parties of up $75,000, and permits state parties to raise unlimited soft money and run ads that promote or attack federal candidates.

A third proposal will be presented by House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Details of that plan will be released later tonight. Whichever bill gets the most votes then will be subject to up to 20 amendments. Gathering this afternoon, supporters of Shays-Meehan said the stakes are higher than ever for their bill.

House passage this time would send it directly to the President who has indicated he’ll make it law.