Dirty Ploy on Campaign Reform
Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leader Dick Armey, the Republican chieftains who tried to bury campaign finance reform earlier this year, are at it again. Last week they outlined a cynical plan to deny what the clear majority of House members want: serious consideration of a reform bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), the only viable reform legislation before the House at this time.
By banning the use of so-called soft money in all federal elections, the Shays-Meehan bill would put an end to the political practices that Gingrich and Armey have railed against in innumerable stump speeches--abuses like the $170,000 in soft money that investor Roger Tamraz funneled into state Democratic parties in an attempt to curry favor with the Clinton administration. Such contributions, while ostensibly intended to help party building, are in fact spent to influence the outcome of federal elections. And because it is both unlimited and unregulated, soft money is widely viewed as the root cause of the 1996 campaign scandals.
Gingrich and Armey, however, have given priority to another bill that would do nothing to rein in abuses like Tamraz’s contributions and would double the amount that individuals could give directly to political parties and campaigns each year, from $25,000 to $50,000.
With help from the aptly named Reps. John T. Doolittle (R-Rocklin), Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and others, Gingrich and Armey have deviated from the usual House rules to allow debate on unlimited amendments being tacked onto the bill in a blatant attempt to sow confusion among legislators.
Incredibly, House Republican leaders all but admit to the subterfuge. Armey, for instance, says he wants campaign reform “out of my life by July 4th,” and Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said of his party’s strategy: “We tried squelching it first. Now we’re trying to talk it to death.” The Senate counterpart to Shays-Meehan, the McCain-Feingold bill, had majority support but was not brought to a formal vote.
This kind of cynicism legitimizes the current campaign finance system, which is little more than legalized bribery. Gingrich repeatedly promised to fix the system by May of this year. Voters are getting tired of empty promises. This week, Gingrich and Armey should focus House debate where it belongs: on serious consideration of the Shays-Meehan bill.