Senators will revisit the issue of campaign finance reform the week of February 23, as it reconsiders legislation to regulate how political money is collected and spent.
While Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will open debate by offering as-yet-unspecified legislation of his own crafting, initial debate will focus will be on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (S. 25), co-sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI). Also the central piece of legislation during last fall's debate on campaign reform, an amended version of S. 25 features a ban on "soft money," further definition of direct and issue-related political advertising, codification of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1988 Beck decision that allows labor union members to seek refunds of dues spent on politics, additional campaign contribution disclosure requirements and a ban on soliciting campaign funds in federal offices.
This past weekend, President Bill Clinton put himself squarely behind S. 25, writing in a letter to senators that "a vote against McCain-Feingold is a vote for soft money, unlimited backdoor campaign expenditures [and] for the status quo." He further said that any amendments from either party would be considered "nothing less than an effort to defeat campaign finance reform." In response, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in the Republican Party's weekly radio address, warned that the bill posed a serious threat to freedom of speech. "These core constitutional freedoms," he said, "are imperiled by the McCain-Feingold bill which the Senate will vote on in the coming days." (For further information on Clinton's and McConnell's comments, click here.)
Another key reform measure that will be debated this week is the Payroll Protection Act (S. 9). Sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Don Nickles (R-OK), this bill would prohibit employers and labor unions from raising money for political activity directly from employee wages unless affected employees give explicit approval to do so. While opponents of this measure called it the "poison pill" that stalled debate last year, CongressDaily quoted a Lott spokesperson saying that payroll protection is the "price of admission" to any reform debate.
For a Roll Call synopsis of these two bills, plus an analysis of a proposed compromise package being crafted by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Jim Jeffords (R-VT), click here. For a press release summarizing McCain-Feingold prepared by Senator McCain's office, click here. To read or download the full text of McCain-Feingold or any other bill introduced in Congress, visit the Congress-on-the-Internet Thomas site by clicking here.