U.S. Rep. Linda Smith, who has made an overhaul of congressional campaign financing the centerpiece of her U.S. Senate bid, introduced Thursday new legislation to end what she calls immoral “money laundering.”
She said she will ignore signals from leadership that no substantial votes will be taken on campaign finance bills this year. Public pressure will continue to mount, especially as televised hearings on campaign abuses unfold, she said in a telephone interview.
The Vancouver Republican, a second-term congresswoman who recently announced plans to seek the GOP nomination to take on Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced what she’s calling the “Anti Money-Laundering and Paycheck Accountability Act.”
The measure would ban “soft money” - the huge, unlimited donations to political parties that are supposed to be used only for party-building activities, but that often are funneled to individual candidates.
Smith’s bill would allow donations, capped at $25,000, strictly for party-building, such as voter registration, mailings to absentee voters and get-out-the vote efforts.
The plan also would require labor unions and other groups to get annual approval from employees before deducting money from their checks for political purposes.
It also would require daily reporting of all campaign contributions made within the last 20 days of a congressional campaign.
And the bill would repeal the law that allows members of Congress to set up their wn political action committees to raise funds to donate to others. A recent study by The Associated Press showed that 32 leadership PACs shelled out at least $5,000 each in 1996.
Smith said the funds are sometimes used to launder money from the tobacco industry and other special interests.
“This legislation is all about shining light on the different ways that money is laundered to political parties and politicians,” she said. “The American people want to know where candidates’ political money is coming from. They want to expose hidden donors who transfer money from place to place.”
Smith has dropped one of the key provisions of previous versions, a ban on political action committee contributions. She said she personally won’t take any PAC money in her Senate campaign and won’t hold fund-raisers in Washington, D.C., but that she’s decided to pursue the “soft money” angle in her new legislation.
She said both parties are abusing the soft-money strategy.
“Although the president and the Democratic Party have dominated recent headlines with reports of laundered money pouring into the White House through teas and overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom, this is a bipartisan problem,” she said.
In his State of the Union message, Clinton challenged the Republicanrun Congress to pass campaign reform by Independence Day, but that deadline came and went.
Smith conceded that her party’s leaders have informally sent the signal that no major legislation will pass this year, but said congressional reformers won’t accept that.
Clinton, meanwhile, has petitioned the Federal Election Commission to issue an order banning soft money contributions, told the Justice Department to fight in court in favor of permitting legal limits on campaign spending, and has asked the Federal Communications Commission to require that television broadcasters give candidates free TV time during campaigns, as a condition of receiving new licenses for digital television.
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