Legislation - Today's Reform Proposals
The public and party leaders agree that once again something needs to be done about campaign finance. But historically, the consensus has disintegrated whenever it came to specific proposals.
That's because the major parties take starkly different views on the specifics of the various "reform" proposals, largely depending on what the likely effect is on their bottom lines.
Democrats generally support limits in soft money and spending because of the GOP's traditional ability to raise funds from the wealthy. And while there is dissension in the ranks, Republicans generally argue against limits particularly if unions remain unfettered in their spending of dues. Some Republican leaders support raising the current limits for individual contributions, which they say would reduce the time and energy spent on fund-raising.
Promises are made then broken. Deadlines are set then ignored. Clinton and House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) famously shook hands before a group of senior citizens in Claremont, N.H., in June 1995 and pledged to create a bipartisan commission to reform campaign finance. Nothing came of it.
But now prospects are looking less bleak. In February, one key bill won the support of a majority of senators before being filibustered to death by Republican leaders.
In April, in the face of a bipartisan rebellion, House Republican leaders reversed course and agreed to let campaign finance legislation come up for a vote.
And in early August, the House passed a far-reaching proposal co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut and Democratic Rep. Martin Meehan of Massachusetts. Shays-Meehan is the House counterpart of the McCain-Feingold bill, the creation of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
Shays-Meehan, much like McCain-Feingold, would:
Democrats strongly back the bill. And the House vote, in which 61 Republicans defied their own leadership's attempts to derail the bill, puts enormous pressure on Senate Republicans to approve the plan. But the legislation is not likely to go any further before the 105th Congress adjourns in early October.
Any attempt to establish mandatory spending limits would likely run afoul of the Supreme Court's Buckley v. Valeo ruling. In March 1997, Sens. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to set such limits, but it was overwhelmingly voted down.
In the meantime, fund-raising proceeds at a record pace: The two political parties raised about $74 million in soft money during 1997 more than twice the amount they raised during the comparable period four years earlier.
Ultimately, supporters of campaign finance reform face a paradox: Expecting people who live and die by money to actually regulate it. Nothing could be more political.
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