Campaign Finance Reform Dies in Senate Vote With PM-Lobby Bill-Glance
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate today killed a campaign finance reform bill, leaving a rewrite of lobbying and gift rules as this Congress’ only major achievement on what had been an ambitious Democratic reform agenda.
The 52-46 vote on campaign finance fell far short of the 60 votes needed to cut short GOP delaying tactics. The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. David Boren, D- Okla., said failure killed the bill’s chances in the waning days of the 103rd Congress.
″This is the kind of bill that gives gridlock a good name,″ said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who led the opposition.
″I make no apologies for killing this turkey of a bill in the last moments of this Congress,″ he said. And he predicted that the new Congress that convenes next year, which is expected to be more conservative, will not spend any time on the issue.
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, sharply attacked Republicans, although not by name, when he accused lawmakers of trying to ″tear down the institution (of Congress) so they can inherit the rubble.″
The current campaign-money system ″stinks,″ he said. ″The public believes that money dominates the American political system, and that those who give the money have a disproportionate influence.″
House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., called it ″the worst case of obstruction by filibuster by any party that I’ve ever seen in my 30 years in Congress.″
The campaign finance bill, which supporters have been pushing for 12 years, had been the cornerstone of President Clinton’s reform agenda. Its failure left a rewrite of lobbying laws as the only major remaining piece of the Democratic list.
On Thursday, the House passed the lobby reform bill after an acrimonious debate. It would shut down one of Washington’s oldest, and most caricatured, institutions: the high-priced lobbyist lunch.
The ban on meals and other gifts for lawmakers was part of a revamping of federal laws covering how lobbyists register and report their activities, the first overhaul in half a century.
″This bill says no to the freebie-seeking members of the House of Representatives ... a small minority of this House that create a bad impression for the rest of us,″ said Rep. John Bryant, D-Texas, the measure’s primary sponsor.
President Clinton called it ″a major step toward changing the culture of the capital.″
The top item on the reform list - a rewrite of campaign finance laws - had been delayed for a year by a dispute between House and Senate Democrats over how much political action committees should be permitted to give candidates, then beset by a Senate Republican filibuster.
Earlier in the week, Democrats had resolved their internal debate by setting the PAC giving limit at $6,000 per election cycle.
Other provisions in the bill would have established a system of voluntary spending limits and reward candidates who abide by them with cut-rate TV time, reduced mailing rates and federal matching money.
The bill was intended to limit the increasing amounts of special-interest money flowing into political campaigns and ease public fears that Congress is more responsive to wealthy lobbying groups than to its constituents.
The House approved the lobby reform bill on a vote of 306-112 and sent it to the Senate, where sponsor Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he was unaware of major opposition.
But the vote belied the difficulty of steering the bill to passage. The measure barely survived an earlier procedural vote, 216-205, after an attack led by Republicans.
In approving the reform bill, House members rejected last-minute arguments from conservative Christian groups that it would infringe their rights to lobby Congress on moral issues by requiring them to report grassroots lobbying activities. Congressional switchboards were swamped after the topic became fodder for conservative radio talk-show hosts.
But Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., said the bill specifically exempts churches from the grassroots lobbying registration requirements. He and Bryant read letters from Jewish, Catholic and Protestant groups praising the bill’s religious protections.
The reform bill was pushed by Democrats as part of an effort to assuage public anger toward Congress. A USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll Thursday showed just 9 percent of Americans ranked House members high or very high on honesty and ethical standards.
The lobby bill would ban virtually all gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, and, with a handful of exceptions, would bar acceptance of anything more than a $20 meal from non-lobbyists.
Members of Congress still would be allowed to accept travel expenses if related to an official function such as making a speech or fact-finding.
The centerpiece of the bill is a requirement that all professional lobbyists register and disclose how much they are paid, whom they are working for and on what issues they are lobbying. Numerous loopholes in the current law, written in 1946, would be closed.