Tags: Accusations | Fly | Over | Campaign | Finance | 'Reform'

Accusations Fly Over Campaign Finance 'Reform'

Wednesday, 13 February 2002 12:00 AM

Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., says the bill he and colleague Christopher Shays, R-Conn., are co-sponsoring is the only real "reform" bill being considered Wednesday, calling proposals sponsored by the House leadership "silly."

"None of the amendments offered by [House Majority Leader] Dick Armey [R-Texas] are amendments that would improve the bill," Meehan alleged at a press conference with numerous liberal advocacy groups, such as Sierra Club and League of Women Voters, which support the bill. "They're all designed to kill the bill."

But one of those amendments is the original bill proposed by Shays and Meehan, as it existed before changes made by the two to garner support in Wednesday's vote.

"We're urging members if they're going to vote for any bill to vote for the original Shays bill and not for this conglomeration [Democrats] threw together last night," Armey said as he stepped onto an elevator en route to the House floor.

"It's a sham," said House Majority Whip Tom Delay, R-Texas, of the new Shays-Meehan bill.

But House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., told reporters that Armey was just trying to get members to vote for anything that will change the current version of the Shays-Meehan bill enough to force it into a conference committee between the House and Senate.

"The speaker of the House, who is opposed to this bill unalterably, has the ability to keep a conference from ever producing anything," Gephardt said. "There's no way to discharge or to force it out of the conference, so the conference becomes a graveyard for the bill."

Some House Republicans argue, though, that Democrats are being less than forthright when it comes to the contents of their bill.

As an example, Chief Deputy Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., points out that Democrats claim their bill bans "soft money" - unlimited, undisclosed corporate, union, and personal contributions] - to political parties. In fact, the bill bans such contributions only to the national political parties and issues advocacy groups.

"We can't talk about a soft money ban for months and then bring a bill to the floor that does just the opposite," Blunt argued on the House floor Wednesday morning.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., co-author of the Shays-Meehan companion bill in the Senate, argues that the "soft money" ban is necessary because national political parties and issue advocacy groups run campaign ads before elections with no disclosure requirements or regulation by the government.

"There is no longer a conduct of campaigns by the candidates," McCain charged. "They're conducted by outside groups with huge amounts of money. That's not fair."

But, as CNSNews.com reported Monday, many advocacy groups fear Shays-Meehan will exclude their members from the political process.

"This would shut down all issues organizations during the one period when people tend to listen," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Most voters are simply too busy to follow politics closely until just before an election, he said.

"What they're saying is that you can talk, that you have free speech, but not at any time when it'll make any difference," Keene concluded.

In an e-mail message to members Wednesday morning, Gun Owners of America (GOA) warned its members that the "soft money" advertising ban would give liberal incumbents a distinct advantage.

"For instance, if anti-gun groups were prohibited from broadcasting ads depicting pro-gun candidates, they would have little trouble getting the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Enquirer [sic], L.A. Times, etc., (all of which are exempt from the legislation) to run the ads as Editorials," the message said.

"Pro-gun groups rarely receive any positive attention from the major media outlets," it added.

The group argues that issues advertising, pointing out the voting records of candidates and alerting their members of upcoming votes, is the only method they have of getting their members' views out to the public.

But such advertising would be banned under the Shays-Meehan legislation, unless advocacy groups were willing to set up political action committees and subject themselves to contribution limits and donor disclosure requirements.

"You couldn't even pay for one television ad in a major market" with the money a group would be limited to raising under the Shays-Meehan restriction, argued GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt in a prior interview with CNSNews.com. "[And] law-abiding gun owners usually aren't too keen about putting their names on a government list."

Supporters and opponents of Shays-Meehan say Wednesday's vote will determine the future of how elections are conducted.

"This day and this vote is the most important day that I will spend in 25 years in the Congress," Gephardt said.

But supporters are not fooling themselves, McCain says, about the future if they prevail.

"The day that this bill is passed, smart guys down on K Street will be figuring out loopholes to try to get around it. And they will succeed to some degree.

"What we're trying to do is return it to the battle of ideas," McCain said.

Opponents argue that the so-called "reformers" may want a battle of ideas, but only if they control which ideas the public is allowed to hear.


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Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., says the bill he and colleague Christopher Shays, R-Conn., are co-sponsoring is the only real reform bill being considered Wednesday, calling proposals sponsored by the House leadership silly. None of the amendments offered by [House...
Wednesday, 13 February 2002 12:00 AM
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