Update On Shays-Meehan
For The Week Of February 19, 2002
On Valentine's Day afternoon, the Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform bill passed the House of Representatives by 240-189, a vote which could ban soft money contributions to the national parties and prevent many political ads from being run during the two months prior to a major national election.
While the bill passed in the House, it still needs the vote of the Senate, as well as the President's signature. President Bush has said that he would not veto the bill if it improved the current system. The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but there are Senators who are seriously working to combat the bill in its current form. If 41 of the Senators agree to debate the bill and consider making any amendments, then the bill must be debated and cannot go straight to a vote. If any amendments are made, the bill will need to return to the House for approval. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY claims they do have the 41 votes needed to continue debate, but one Senator could always choose to switch sides and avoid the debate.
As it stands, under the Shays-Meehan bill:
Soft money donations to national political parties would be banned.
Limits on hard money contributions from individuals would be increased from $1000 to $2000 a year. (Hard money contributions go to specific candidates and must be disclosed.)
State and local parties would be allowed to raise soft money in amounts of $10,000, but could not use the funds for political commercials.
Soft money could not be used to purchase 'issue ads' within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a federal election.
A section of the bill would have required stations to sell slots to political advertisers at the lowest rates. However, due to opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters, this portion was stripped from the bill.
If approved by the Senate and President, this bill will go into effect after the November 2002 elections.
While doing serious damage to the freedom of speech by putting restrictions on advertisements and on the ability to donate to local and national political parties, the bill gives greater power to the major media, which will not be banned from reporting on specific candidates within 60 days of an election. The bill also indirectly works to the advantage of incumbent politicians. Since the political parties will not have as much money coming in, they will be less able to support poorer candidates who wish to challenge incumbents. Therefore, the rich, who can finance their own campaigns, will be most able to credibly run for office. Many amendments to the bill were recommended during the House debates, but most were defeated - often by a narrow margin. Two alternatives to the bill were also rejected.
While the bill will weaken national political parties, Larry Sabato, a political scientist who specializes on election law revisions, has noted, " The people with the most money, who have access to the best consultants, the corporations, labor unions and ideological interest groups on the right or left
will not be deterred in the slightest. "
If the bill is passed by the Senate and is signed by the President, groups such as the Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) are already working to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the bill's constitutionality. Concerned about the bill's violation of political free speech, SLF President Phil Kent stated, " Rather than focusing on attacking alleged corruption problems by strengthening enforcement and disclosure laws, the Shays-Meehan crowd has laid waste to the First Amendment. " The SLF has successfully fought past laws that overstepped the bounds of the Constitution.
House Campaign Finance Roll Call - Yahoo News
House Passes Campaign Finance Reform Bill - Fox News
Campaign Finance Reform Proposal Could Hurt Parties, Poorer Candidates - Duluth News Tribune
Campaign Bill Hits Roadblock - USA Today
Shays-Meehan Has Tough Foe in Southeastern Legal Foundation - Insight On The News