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Friday, January 25, 2002

Does this discharge make congressmen unclean?- Campaign finance reform backers, with some help from Enron news, finally got a majority of House members to sign a discharge petition to bring the center-left Shays-Meehan (the House incarnation of McCain-Feingold) bill to the floor. The key features of the bill would be to end large donations to political parties and restrict how non-candidates talk about candidates in ads. Of course, restricting free speech has one minor problem- the first amendment. Some background for non-political-junkies: Donations to individual congressmen or senators ("Hard Money") are limited to $2000 per donor, while donations to parties or other non-candidate groups ("Soft Money") are unlimited. Those non-candidate groups are supposed to use that money for things like voter education and registration and not be used to directly support candidates. However, as long as an ad doesn't say, "Vote for Congressman Jones" or "Vote against Candidate Smith", they'll claim they are just educating voters that candidate Smith is the Devil incarnate, and the FEC looks the other way. This doesn’t mean that Shays-Meehan will pass. An alternative coalition of Republicans and black Democrats (who rely on soft money in their poorer districts) could pry loose some of the Democrats and about 20 moderate House Republicans backing S-M (Oh! They like S-M?) by well-placed amendments.

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