GWEN IFILL: Even as we speak it's nose-counting time in the House of Representatives.
Joining us now are two lawmakers in the middle of the debate: Republican Christopher Shays of Connecticut, one of the co-sponsors of the campaign finance legislation; and Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chief Republican deputy whip.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Blunt, Speaker Hastert (R-Ill.) told Republicans earlier this week or I believe it was last week that if this bill passed, it would represent armageddon for the Republican Party.
What did he mean by that?
REP. ROY BLUNT (R-Mo.) Republican Deputy Whip: Well, you know, Gwen, I usually listen pretty carefully to what the speaker has to say.
I missed that comment in the conference, but I do think that the speaker thinks this really is likely to curtail our ability to express ideas, our freedom of speech, the ability of outside groups to mention federal candidates within 60 days of an election, but the truth is we haven't seen the final bill yet just like that big question mark there by the bill the majority leader will bring to the floor under the rule.
There's also a big question mark by... about what Chris's bill and Marty Meehan's bill will look like when they file it yet tonight. I think we're going to see some problems in that bill that when we come to the floor tomorrow members are going to have concern that that bill could be a better bill.
If it does pass and if it is signed it will define the politics of the country and the political discussion of the country for ten or twenty years, and it needs to be a bill that truly does work, protect people's rights, and allow the political debate to go on.
GWEN IFILL: Do you think if the Shays-Meehan version of this bill passed as it's written right now that the Republicans would have a tough time holding on to the majority in the next elections?
REP. ROY BLUNT: Well, I don't know how it's written right now. I'll be anxious to see it late tonight to see how it is written and what it would do. I think in the short term we're prepared if this bill is going to go into effect for it to go into effect this year.
I suspect that will be one of the amendments that we'll make depending on how Chris proposes this bill and Marty proposes this bill. Some talk now that they think it would be better for it to go into effect next year.
If we need to get rid of soft money, let's get rid of all soft money, union soft money, corporate soft money, third- party soft money. Let's get rid of all the corporate money, all the money that people don't write in checks out of their checking account.
Let's do it right now and let's see what happens this year under this bill if that's truly the kind of reform that the majority of the House and Senate want.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Shays, is Armageddon a reasonable way of describing what would happen if your bill passed and what is your reaction to what Mr. Blunt just said about what this bill should include?
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R-Conn.): Let me first say that I was there at the meeting with the speaker. He was very clear it meant our defeat which to me was pretty shocking. Really what he's saying is we need Enron money in order to win.
We're a party of ideas. We're not a party that's captive of the corporate community. So, one, that was somewhat alarming.
But let me just also say to you that this is about enforcing the 1907 law banning corporate treasury money, enforcing the 1947 law banning union dues money, and enforcing the 1974 law that said you can't give unlimited sums of individual contributions into campaigns. And what we seek to do is enforce that law. We're going to work our darnedest to do that. We've already been under this law.
In 1978 when we allowed this incredible flood of corporate treasury money and union dues money, Enron a half million dollars for the Democratic Party, $1.1 million for the Republican Party out of corporate treasury money -- this is absurd. It needs to end.
Let me just make one other point because I saw Roy on another program and he said it again tonight. Our bill is basically the bill that we introduced last year, had on the floor in June, had an amendment to it, take the bill and the amendment and you have our bill.
And the only thing we're doing differently, because we're taking it up now is having the effective date start Nov. 6 and not take effect this year because we don't know how to make it workable with 16 months already into the campaign.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Shays, in practical terms you talk about the taint of Enron money. What does this bill do or have to do with what Enron... with Enron money....
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I'm so happy you asked that question.
GWEN IFILL: Other than the taint.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: Two ways. I mean Enron money bought access and it bought influence. It bought what happened in energy policy, it enabled them to give lists to the administration of people who got on FERC. They basically were at the table when other people weren't.
But I think it's more important to describe what's going on right now. We have a lot of members who say there's nothing wrong with this problem. Everything's fine. The millions of dollars don't have any impact on us. That's like frankly Arthur Andersen saying Enron is okay.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Mr. Blunt to respond to that. I'm curious whether he thinks that this bill would stop the kind of abuses which Mr. Shays says are inherent in the contributions that corporations like Enron make to political parties.
REP. ROY BLUNT: Well, Gwen, I don't think it would. I think if the soft money is so bad the bill should ban all of it. There's a special exception for building accounts for the national political parties.
There's not much of a building account on the Republican side. There's a $40 million building fund on the Democratic side. To say it's okay to keep that money, the idea that we need to wait another 16 months for this law to go into effect, if it's so important, it's easy to comply with this. Everybody gives all the soft money that they've gotten back.
You move forward with the hard money, the money that individuals have written, and I think we're likely to see an amendment that actually would increase the amount of money that individuals, including Enron executives, if they were still giving money could give to members of the House and the Senate or candidates for the House and Senate.
The Senate has already increased that amount to $2,000 from a $1,000 limit. That means Enron could have given twice as much money in all of those lists you see of political candidates have gotten money from Enron executives over the last several years.
I don't think that money that is used for party building, for voter registration, for voter turnout, is sinister, the way the parties have been collecting it.
But if it is, I think we'll have an amendment tomorrow, an amendment I intend to support that would eliminate all soft money.
Chris has had a bill in the past that clearly did that. He's had a bill in the past that required random audits of campaign accounts. I think those random audits would be a good idea. He's had a bill in the past that had stronger criminal penalties than this bill has and this bill has had to be watered down to get it to the floor today I think.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Mr. Shays what would be wrong with banning all soft money.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: It would be great. That was in our original bill. The problem was we took it to the Senate. The Senate took our bill and said 100 percent of it they didn't agree with. They agreed with 85 percent. We're supposedly going to stick with 100 percent and then lose it in the Senate. That's the way campaign reform is lost for the last 15 years. It's just a ploy by opponents of reform to prevent any reforms from happening.
What we're saying is that we're not going to wait 16 months. We're going to wait until November 6 of next year -- of this year. We don't know when this legislation is going to get through the Senate. So obviously we have to deal with the reality of that fact.
In terms of the building fund there was no special building fund put in. That was the basis for soft money back in 1978. We've left that in. And if the Democrats want to be so stupid as to spend their soft money building a building instead of trying to defeat Republicans, we should welcome it, not discourage it.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Shays, if this doesn't go into effect until next year, not for this year's elections…
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: It starts in November. You can't start raising soft money November 6. The reason is we are already 16 months into this because we're taking up the bill now, not January or February of last year. And we don't know when it's going to pass the Senate, if it passes the Senate.
And then our problem is that you already have primaries in effect. And our bill says no soft money 60 days before a general election and no soft money 30 days before a primary. How do you make that work? You can't make it work. The problem is they don't want it to work.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Blunt, let's talk about that 60-day prohibition. Right now the bill as written would say that non-PAC or non-political action committee bulk contributors basically could not make any kinds of contributions prior to... 60 days prior to an election. Is that something you have a problem with?
REP. ROY BLUNT: It really says they can't run an ad 60 days prior to an election that mentioned a federal candidate with money that they might have in their union account because that becomes so-called soft money when it goes in there in the form of dues or charities received or a not for profit, rather, is received.
I think the idea that you can't mention the name of a political candidate -- a federal candidate -- in an ad 60 days before an election is unbelievable and ultimately we found unconstitutional.
Also there's a provision in here if you want to take a newspaper ad you can take it but you have to file the ad with the Federal Election Commission first. If you'd have had that debate in 1787 in Philadelphia that you can... You might be able to say something bad about these newly created Congressmen and Senators and the President of the United States but you'd have to file the ad with the government first, there would have been a second American Revolution right then and right there.
GWEN IFILL: We have --
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I need to jump in. That's not accurate.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Shays.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I want to make these two very important points. We say you can't use corporate treasury money or union dues money 60 days to an election but you can use hard money contributions.
So all these organizations can raise money from their individuals and spend it without any problem whatsoever. You don't have to pre-file any ad with a newspaper. In fact, we allow soft money to be used in advertisements and newspapers.
GWEN IFILL: I have to jump in to ask one final question of both of you, which is do you know whether the White House has had any input into the last minute debate over this bill. Mr. Blunt?
REP. ROY BLUNT: I think the White House has some interest in this bill. The president laid down some principles last year. That's one of the reasons we think a conference would actually be the better place to write this than to write a bill that's filed at midnight tonight, that's going to be voted on by maybe midnight tomorrow tonight.
Important legislation has a conference. The White House is involved. I'd like to see that happen. I'd like to see a bill on the president's desk that he's able to sign this year, one; and two, really does make a positive political difference in the future of the country.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Shays.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: The president has stayed out; some of his people have gotten involved. The president recognizes that this may pass. I think he'll sign it. I think he should sign it. Most of his principles... It bans the corporate treasury money, the union dues money. It has disclosure. It cleans up a system in a way that we haven't seen in the last 25 years.
GWEN IFILL: All right. We'll be watching for this vote and this outcome tomorrow. Thank you both very much.