Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., said they would reintroduce their bill next week with the goal of getting it passed by the House and sent to the Senate by this spring.
The Shays-Meehan bill, which would bring about the most important changes in campaign finance laws in a quarter-century, overcame strong opposition from the GOP leadership to pass the House last August by 252-179. A majority of 52 senators supported it, but backers were unable to get the 60 votes needed to bring it to a final vote.
"This will be the litmus test," Meehan said at a briefing for congressional staff and reporters. "This will be the test as to whether or not this Congress can work in a bipartisan way."
New House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., took office this month with a pledge to reduce partisanship and work with Democrats. Shays said he hasn't yet discussed campaign finance with Hastert, who voted against the bill last year and has not mentioned it as one of his legislative priorities.
Shays said he would tell Hastert that "one way or another it's going to come up, and it would make sense to have it done as quickly as possible and hopefully as harmoniously as possible."
The Shays-Meehan bill would ban federal "soft money," unlimited and unregulated donations to political parties, restrict issue ads that seek to influence elections under the guise of educating voters and expand disclosure requirements.
The two lawmakers said it was essential to act this year so the new law can be in place for the year 2000 presidential election. Shays said there was some $260 million in soft money donations from corporations and labor unions in 1996, and without legislation that figure could top $500 million in 2000.
"I do really believe that we are in a meltdown," Shays said. He urged staff members to "appeal to your bosses' higher angel on this issue. ... If not now, when?"
"It's become a national disgrace," Meehan said. The limitless flow of soft money gives the appearance of corruption and "undermines the credibility of the decisions we make day in and day out."
Meehan said he was coordinating strategy with the sponsors of parallel legislation in the Senate, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and was assured that they would renew their fight for passage.
Written By Jim Abrams, Associated Press Writer