Campaign Finance Update #2

February 26, 1998


Some amendments were made and some rhetoric was exchanged, but the renewed debate over campaign finance reform legislation in the Senate this week came to exactly the same conclusion as last fall -- hopelessly stalled, and facing dueling filibusters.

On Thursday morning, February 26, campaign finance legislation failed to get the filibuster-proof majority it needed, essentially killing its prospects for the 105th Congress.

On Wednesday, February 25, leading proponents of the McCain-Feingold bill, which would impose new regulations to campaign finance law, conceded they did not have the votes necessary to override a filibuster. "Obviously," said sponsor Senator John McCain (R-AZ), "we don't have 60 votes." His chief adversary in the debate, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed to have "48 rock solid votes" against the bill.

As offered on Monday, February 23, the McCain-Feingold bill -- officially titled the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (S. 25) -- sought to ban unregulated "soft money" contributions to political parties, regulate "issues ads," increase reporting requirements for large contributions, enforce the U.S. Supreme Court's Beck ruling allowing labor union members to seek rebates of dues money used for politics and prohibiting political fundraising in federal buildings. In a largely symbolic move, the bill was later amended with proposed compromise language offered by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to prohibit labor unions and corporations from running "issues ads" during the last 60 days of a campaign. The amendment would allow other organizations to do so, but the process would be subject to speedy disclosure rules.

Thursday morning's vote was 51-48 in favor of the McCain-Feingold package, but still nine votes short of the 60 needed to survive an anticipated filibuster. Soon after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) announced he was removing the issue of campaign finance from the floor of the Senate in favor of new, unrelated business.

Before turning to new business, however, the Senate voted on Republican-sponsored "paycheck protection" legislation that would require labor union members submit annual approval before union leaders could use individual member dues for political activity. This proposal received 46 votes.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) vowed that Senate Democrats will continue to reintroduce McCain-Feingold language as amendments to other legislation "throughout the year." He told The Washington Post, "We will pursue this and persist so long as it takes to be successful."

Implying that campaign finance reform is a growing concern among voters, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) warned that "a lot of senators are going to realize they're out of sync." Senator McConnell countered by pointing out, "No one in the history of American politics has ever won or lost a campaign on this issue." (To find out how Senator Feingold watered-down voluntary restrictions for his own reelection campaign, click here.)

For a Roll Call synopsis of the McCain-Feingold bill, the Snowe amendment or the Republican "paycheck protection" bill, click here. To read or download the full text of McCain-Feingold of any bill introduced in Congress, visit the Congress-on-the-Internet Thomas site by clicking here.

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