In its first vote on campaign finance reform since the current furor over big money in politics erupted, the Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly killed a constitutional amendment that would have let restrictions be placed on campaign spending without violating the free-speech doctrine.
The 61-38 vote against the measure fell well short of a majority, much less the necessary two-thirds requirement for approving proposed constitutional amendments and sending them to the states for consideration.
The outcome may not bode well for other efforts to change campaign finance laws, but reform proponents proclaimed their determination to press on.
Indeed, hours before the Senate vote, a new coalition of Democratic senators and citizen-activist groups unveiled a proposal calling for public financing of federal elections. This effort was led by Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), John Glenn (D-Ohio) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.); among the groups backing it is the League of Women Voters.
The proposed constitutional amendment, offered by Sens. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), was intended to overcome a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1976 that held that limitations on campaign spending--but not campaign contributions--infringe on the 1st Amendment right to freedom of expression.
The Hollings-Specter amendment would have empowered Congress and the states to "set reasonable limits" on campaign contributions and expenditures for elective offices.
The measure's opponents, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), argued against tinkering with the 1st Amendment. Equating unrestricted spending with free speech, McConnell called the amendment "a recipe for repression."