Meaningful campaign finance reform will be struck a devastating blow -- possibly a knock-out punch -- this week. And I'll be forced to sit ringside and watch.
Today the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over this issue, will begin two months of hearings on 30 separate reform proposals, which surely will carry us into the August recess.
These hearings are a sham and a waste of time. They are intended to give members who oppose campaign finance reform political "cover." With hearings, these members will be able to tell the American people -- who are rightfully outraged at reports of campaign finance abuses -- that we're doing something to address these problems.
But, of course, we're not. These hearings simply will stymie Congress and prevent it from doing anything constructive on campaign finance this year. As my Republican colleague from Tennessee, Zach Wamp, pointed out recently: "If you wait until September, the Senate will just run out the clock."
This latest round of campaign finance reform hearings promises to produce nothing new. Between the 104th and 106th Congress, 11 hearings were held in the House on campaign finance reform. More than 50 hours were spent considering bipartisan reform legislation sponsored by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) on the floor, culminating in its passage by a margin of 252 to 179. Unfortunately, last year's effort languished in the Senate.
While not perfect, the Shays-Meehan bill -- which was introduced again in January with minor changes -- is a good first step in eliminating the most egregious abuses in campaign finance.
Shays-Meehan would ban so-called "soft money" contributions and would place restrictions on late-breaking issue-advocacy ads that target candidates. These ads can undermine the democratic process by permitting interest groups to spend excessive sums of money on behalf of a particular candidate without explicitly saying so -- in the waning days, or even hours, of a campaign. This is unfair and wrong.
So why can't we dispense with hearings now and move directly to a vote on the Shays-Meehan reform legislation that passed by such a comfortable margin last year? Simple. The House Republican leadership won't permit a vote because it has no interest in passing reform legislation.
To date, supporters of Shays-Meehan have mustered 202 of the required 218 signatures necessary to discharge the bill and bring it to the House floor for a vote over leadership objections. But with the Republican leadership pressuring members not to sign the discharge petition, the prospects for Shays-Meehan -- and any constructive campaign finance reform this year -- appear dim.
The clock is running. And these hearings only confirm that the Republican leadership believes it can win on campaign finance reform by stalling until the bell rings.
The writer, a U.S. representative from Maryland, is a member of the House Democratic leadership and is the ranking Democratic member of the House Administration Committee.