Campaign Finance Update #3
April 2, 1998
Elements of a campaign finance reform
package offered by congressional leaders passed in the House of
Representatives on March 30 under "suspended" rules.
The full package and a provision allowing labor union members
to decide whether their dues could be spent on politics, however,
failed to get the necessary votes.
Legislation was considered under a special rule limiting debate (in this case, to 40 minutes per bill) and requiring a two-thirds majority for passage.
Congressman Bill Thomas (R-CA) sponsored the reform package (H.R. 3581). H.R. 3581 sought to ban unregulated "soft money" donations to national political parties, strengthen disclosure rules for political contributions, ban foreign contributions to federal races, encourage the verification of voter citizenship, increase campaign contribution limits, and give union members the ability to stop their dues from being spent on politics. It failed by a vote of 337-74.
Two elements of the Thomas bill that were offered separately did pass on their own. A ban on foreign donations to federal campaigns (H.R. 34) passed by a vote of 369-43, and a measure to institute a faster means for disclosing campaign contributions (H.R. 3582) passed by 405-6. But another provision to allow workers who pay mandatory union dues to decide whether or not their money can be spent on politics (H.R. 2608) failed by a vote of 166-246.
Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) had agreed to bring up campaign finance reform by the end of March. He later hoped to put it off until after the April recess. He rescheduled the vote for March 30, according to spokeswoman Christina Martin, after "It was decided by the entire elected leadership that there are a far larger number of members who wanted to proceed expeditiously."
Advocates of further campaign finance regulation were displeased with the leadership's choice of legislation and its quick consideration despite the fact that many of them pressured Gingrich to honor his end-of-March pledge. Two in particular were Congressmen Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA) -- the chief sponsors of the House companion bill of the Senate's failed McCain-Feingold bill. The Shays-Meehan bill (H.R. 3526) seeks to ban "soft money," restrict certain types of political advertising and impose stricter disclosure rules. Workers who pay labor union dues but are not members of a union are allowed a choice in how their dues are spent on politics, but full members are not given similar protection.
Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) alluded to the possibility that the campaign finance issue may come up again for further debate during the 105th Congress, but said, "certainly we feel that we have identified... the key crucial issues that are of concern to the American people."
In an effort to override the House leadership, proponents of the Shays-Meehan bill are circulating a "discharge petition" to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. While the petition needs the signatures of 218 House members, only 190 members have signed so far (to read an article from the Washington Post on the petition drive, click here). The campaign watchdog organization Common Cause is planning to use the April congressional recess to lobby congressmen to sign the petition.