March 28, 1998 in Nation/World

Gop Hacks Campaign Financing Fix Tactical Moves By House Leaders Outrage Sponsors Of Reform Bill

Edwin Chen Los Angeles Times

In a move that outraged campaign finance reform advocates, House Republican leaders on Friday scheduled for Monday a series of votes on the issue that will require a virtually insurmountable two-thirds majority vote for passage.

“Campaign finance reform is as dead as a doornail,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said after the announcement by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.

Reformers, including some Republicans, also were livid because, under the House rules Armey invoked, floor debate will be limited to 20 minutes per side.

Such procedure normally is reserved for legislation that has little or no opposition - and therefore is highly unusual for a controversial bill.

Armey’s tactic, backed by the full House GOP leadership team, provoked a series of diatribes from Democrats. It also prompted an extraordinary colloquy between Armey and Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., a reformer who challenged his leader with a series of pointed questions about the GOP majority’s true intentions.

Armey insisted that Monday’s balloting will provide “a wonderful opportunity to vote for campaign finance reform in the best interest of honest elections.”

But critics were not convinced. Becky Cain, president of the proreform League of Women Voters, called Armey’s move “an egregious abuse of the democratic process” that will produce only “rigged votes” on campaign finance reform.

Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., Shay’s co-sponsor on a major reform bill that is being barred from reaching the House floor, called the GOP move an “outrage … a disgrace.”

Friday’s developments underscored the unexpectedly volatile nature of the uphill drive to revamp the nation’s election financing system after nearly two years of revelations of widespread abuses by both parties during the 1996 campaigns.

Both earlier this year and in 1997, the GOP-dominated Senate killed a major reform measure that would have banned “soft money,” huge unregulated donations to the political parties. But in the Feb. 26 vote, Republicans had to resort to a filibuster to block the measure.

In the House this week, Republican leaders began devising a strategy to make good on the pledge by Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., to bring up the issue by the end of March.

But during behind-the-scenes strategizing, Gingrich and his lieutenants realized that the reformers might muster a majority to vote for their bill to ban “soft money,” which is modeled after the Senate version.

As a result, Gingrich and Armey abruptly postponed floor action on the bill, which had been set for Thursday or Friday.

That evoked a chorus of public protests from not only Democrats but also Republicans, who charged that GOP leaders were blatantly thwarting the will of the House majority.

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