House Democratic leaders yesterday backed away from proposing a rule change that would have allowed lawmakers to accept unlimited contributions to pay costs related to the redrawing of House district lines after each national census.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) decided to withdraw the proposal, sponsored by Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), after Democratic lawmakers began raising questions about it, according to leadership aides. "We're going to review the situation," Foley said yesterday.
The change would have exempted from House limits contributions intended to pay for lawyers and consultants in the decennial congressional redistricting process, which is about to get underway nationwide. The donations would have been disclosed as part of the annual congressional financial disclosures.
Because the funds collected separately for redistricting battles are not related to a federal election, they are not subject to the federal campaign finance laws that restrict the sources and amounts of contributions.
The proposal had drawn strong objections from Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, a public interest group that has pressed Congress on questions of ethics and pay. Wertheimer called the proposal "an outrageous, gaping loophole" in campaign finance laws. Yesterday, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) and Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), the House Administration Committee's ranking GOP member, wrote Foley to express concern about the proposal.
Uneasiness about the rule change was heightened by the continuing Senate ethics committee inquiry into the activities of five senators on behalf of savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr., who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to their campaigns and causes.
Frost said he proposed the change because House regulations were not clear. Under current law and House rules, lawmakers may either use campaign funds to pay for redistricting fights or may establish separate accounts to collect money for that purpose.
If a separate account is used, it is not clear whether those contributions would fall under the House rule that limits individuals' gifts to lawmakers to no more than $200 a year.
The proposal had been part of a package of rule changes considered yesterday by 267 Democrats who will serve in the 102nd Congress. The 167 House Republicans have a competing package, but the Democrats' changes likely will be ratified on a party-line vote when the House convenes Jan. 3. The revisions deal with issues ranging from whether the House may recess without seeking special authority to amending House rules to conform with new ethics laws.
One change proves that in Congress, what you're called can be as important as what you do. The Democrats voted to change House rules to designate the No. 2 Democrat on committees and subcommittees as the "vice chairman" -- a title Republicans have been using informally to refer to the ranking GOP member. In response, House Republicans voted to change the rules to designate the ranking Republican "the Republican chairman" of the committee or subcommittee.
House Democrats meet today to vote on committee chairmen for the new Congress. In a move that has implications for congressional and California politics, Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-Calif.) last night announced he would challenge House Public Works and Transportation Committee Chairman Glenn M. Anderson (D-Calif.).
Members of the panel, which will work on a major highway bill next year, have questioned Anderson's effectiveness. Mineta's announcement also could draw Rep. Robert A. Roe (D-N.J.) into the race. Roe is second in seniority behind Anderson, and Mineta is third.
No other chairmen face announced challenges. Rep. William D. Ford (D-Mich.) is expected to become chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, succeeding Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), who retired. Ford is likely to be replaced as chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee by Rep. William (Bill) Clay (D-Mo.).