The House Administration Committee, acting with the support of the Republican leadership, yesterday approved legislation to dismantle many of the campaign contribution and spending limits enacted over the past 30 years. Under the bill, one donor could direct as much as $1 million in support of a candidate for federal office.
The measure, approved on a 6 to 3 party-line vote, would eliminate the $101,400 ceiling on total contributions to federal candidates and parties by one person. In addition, national parties could give unlimited amounts in support of candidates.
Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) said the bill "removes some of the regulatory shackles that hinder the ability of party committees, political action committees and individuals to compete on a level playing field" with independent, largely unregulated political committees called "527s."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) retorted: "You can put lipstick on a pig and it's still going to oink, and that's what this bill is, an oinker."
Ney and Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), have indicated support for the bill. Ney said he hopes to get it to the floor before the July 4 recess.
The bill is likely to win House approval. Prospects in the Senate, where 40 members can prevent action by filibustering, are dimmer, unless the GOP leadership attaches the bill to popular "must pass" legislation or to a budget resolution that is not subject to a filibuster.
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), a critic of the bill, said one rich donor could effectively give more than $1.1 million to a candidate by channeling the cash through all 50 state committees and the national, congressional and senatorial campaign committees. Under the law, all the money could then be transferred to a single committee. Under the House Administration bill, that committee would be allowed to spend unlimited amounts for a candidate, working in coordination with the campaign.
The House bill includes some of the provisions in a parallel measure approved by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee over the objections of Democrats. Democratic leaders in both chambers contend the bills are designed to favor GOP state and federal committees which, they say, would be empowered to further extend the financial advantages they hold over their Democratic counterparts.
So far this year, the Republican National, Congressional and Senatorial committees have raised $83 million, compared with $48.6 million by the Democratic committees.