WASHINGTON – The House approved campaign finance legislation Wednesday night that would benefit Republicans by placing strict new caps on contributions to nonprofit committees that spent heavily in the last election while removing limits on political party spending coordinated with candidates.
The bill passed 218 to 209 in a virtual party-line vote.
Lifting party spending limits would aid Republican candidates because the GOP has consistently raised far more money than the Democratic Party. Similarly, barring “527” committees from accepting large unregulated contributions known as “soft money” would disadvantage Democrats, whose candidates enjoyed a disproportionate share of the $424 million spent by nonprofit committees in 2003-2004.
The 527 committees are named for a section of the tax law, and are tax-exempt organizations that use voter mobilization and issues ads to influence federal elections. They grew in importance after the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law barred federal candidates and national parties from accepting unlimited donations from individuals, unions and corporations.
In 2003-2004, for example, international financier George Soros broke all contribution records by giving a total of $27 million to pro-Democratic groups such as America Coming Together and the Media Fund.
Although the measure’s prospects for approval in the Senate are considered slim, House Republicans wanted a vote on what they could describe as “reform” legislation. At the same time, Republican leaders sought to embarrass Democrats by making them vote in apparent support of the use of soft money in federal campaigns.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, described the bill as “the first piece of the broad GOP lobbying and earmark reform package.” Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., declared that the legislation demonstrates that “the Republican Party is the party of reform.”
Their claims were ridiculed by Democrats. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the measure is designed to tilt campaign finance in favor of the GOP and will not change the public image of this session as “the Congress that Jack and Tom built.”
He was referring to former powerful GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials, and former House majority leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who this week announced plans to resign his seat rather than face a tough re-election campaign.
“You have allowed it (the House) to become an auction house,” Emanuel said.