Tags: McCain-Feingold | Bill | Spotlight | Sponsors | Prepare | for | Senate

McCain-Feingold Bill in Spotlight as Sponsors Prepare for Senate Showdown

Friday, 03 November 2000 12:00 AM

Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, has pledged to make this bill his first piece of domestic legislation if elected; Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, opposes it.

Regardless of who wins Nov. 7, the bill's sponsors, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., have said they plan to hold up the Senate until the bill, which would effectively ban soft-money contributions to the national parties, comes up for a vote and passes.

"We come back ... and then we immediately block other action in the Senate," Feingold said.

The bill already has a majority in the Senate, but McCain and Feingold need 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster. So far they have fallen short of this mark, gaining 53 votes in the most recent attempt to pass a version of the bill in October 1999. Feingold estimated that there are currently 56 senators who would vote for the bill.

The House passed the Shays-Meehan bill, which includes a ban on soft money as well as other reforms, in September 1999.

The current version of the bill has been pared down to focus on soft-money contributions, which are unregulated under current law and typically take the form of large donations to political parties, which are then funneled to state and local committees for "party-building" activities.

A 1979 amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act codified rulings by the Federal Election Commission that exempted certain party activities, including spending on voter registration efforts and "campaign materials" such as pins and bumper stickers, from regulations on other party expenditures.

" 'Party-building' is now almost anything," said University of Wisconsin-Madison political science Professor Don Kettl, an expert on campaign finance.

In the last decade, soft-money contributions to parties have increased dramatically. Much of the money funds "issue ads" that come just short of advocating for or against a particular candidate.

"I would defy anyone to watch a series of commercials and to be able to tell the so-called party-building ads apart from the candidates' own ads," Kettl said.

The current version of McCain-Feingold effectively bans soft-money contributions by prohibiting national party committees and federal candidates from soliciting such funds and prohibiting state and local party committees from spending soft money on federal election activities.

Feingold characterized the soft-money contributions as a "cancer" that has been allowed to spread and said banning them would put "the genie back in the bottle."

Feingold is optimistic the bill will pass when the Senate reconvenes in January, predicting he and McCain will get the necessary votes within two weeks.

"It's going to be a challenge, but I think we're in the best position," he said.

Kettl said it is likely that some version of the bill will pass the Senate, but the contents will depend on the makeup of Congress and the next president.

"Campaign finance reform is a whole host of different issues, but the question is what kind of consensus can be built for what kind of campaign finance reform," he said.

Kettl said Gore's strong support of the bill "dramatically improves the chances of McCain-Feingold passing" if he is elected president. While he did not think Bush would veto the bill if elected, Kettl said passage would be tougher.

"If the president is not in favor, it makes the battle that much tougher," he said.

(C) 1999 The Daily Cardinal via U-WIRE

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Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, has pledged to make this bill his first piece of domestic legislation if elected; Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, opposes it. Regardless of who wins Nov. 7, the bill's sponsors, Sen. John McCain,...
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2000-00-03
Friday, 03 November 2000 12:00 AM
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