Campaign Bill Heads To House

After two grueling weeks in the Senate, campaign finance reform legislation heads to the House of Representatives, where it faces yet another set of obstacles.

Just getting a vote could be a problem in the House since Republican leaders there are hostile to the measure championed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and also see it as taking away from time needed to pass President Bush's agenda.

If the House passes legislation different from the Senate version, it could require a House-Senate conference, a graveyard for other major bills in recent years, and more House and Senate votes if a compromise is reached. Then it's on to an uncertain fate at the White House.

Mr. Bush has opposed the main aspect of the legislation that passed the Senate 59-41 Monday, a ban on loosely regulated "soft money" donations made by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to the political parties. But he has said he was willing to sign a bill that "improves the system."


Click here for a closer look at the campaign finance debate.

"The challenge in the House is to get a date where we can vote on this bill," said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., a co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold counterpart in the House with Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

"Soft money has been the root of most of what ails our campaign finance system today — the White House coffees, the Lincoln bedroom, alleged contributions from the Chinese military" to the Democratic National Committee, said Rep. Marge Roukema, a New Jersey Republican. "I urge Speaker (Dennis) Hastert to take charge and show leadership by scheduling prompt House consideration."

Hastert hasn't made any commitments on a date yet. "We've been focused on getting tax relief for the American people, and that will take precedence right now," said his spokesman, John Feehery. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the third-ranking Republican in the House, has pledged to do whatever he can to defeat the bill.

Supporters are hoping for a House vote before Memorial Day, reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

The House has passed campaign finance legislation twice, in 1998 and 1999, only to see the bill die in the Senate, and hays and Meehan are confident they still have a solid majority. Less certain is whether they can come up with a final product that the Senate can endorse without requiring a House-Senate conference made up of negotiators appointed by Republican leaders out to see the bill stopped.

Meehan said the Senate-passed bill was very similar to his and "meets the test of true reform." But some House Democrats, including Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, have expressed concern about provisions in the bill to raise the direct "hard money" contributions an individual may make to candidates and parties. The donation to a candidate is doubled to $2,000 per election.

If the bill becomes law, it would still run into almost instant court challenges from opponents who argue that many of its provisions, including items that restrict the political advertising of interest groups in the final 60 days of an election, violate free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, chief adversary of the bill, says he will meet with allies this week to plan legal strategy to strike it down in the courts.

"I'm sure there are going to be court challenges on all parts of it," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who voted against the bill. "So it still has a way to go."

In the background is a formidable coalition of groups — ranging from the AFL-CIO labor federation and the American Civil Liberties Union to the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association that see the bill as a violation of their right to influence the political process. They are determined to defeat the bill either in Congress or in the courts.


©MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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