House Passes Shays-Meehan Bill 240-189

by Guest Blogger, 2/28/2002

A substitute bill sponsored by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA) passed the House of Representatives at 2:40 a.m. on February 14 by a vote of 240-189. 198 Democrats and 41 Republicans voted for the bill.
During the debate the sponsors entered colloquy language into the record that clarifies the Federal Election Commission's role in defining exceptions to issue advocacy restrictions in the bill. Exceptions could be created for broadcasts that are "wholly unrelated to an election." The colloquy, proposed by OMB Watch and Independent Sector, makes it clear that the FEC should conduct a rulemaking and act within 90 days of the effective date of the new law.

The following amendments were made to the bill Shays and Meehan filed last summer:

  1. New effective date: November 6, 2002 (the day after Election Day).
  2. National parties can spend soft money through the end of 2002 to pay outstanding debts.
  3. Contribution limit for House races increased from $1000 to $2000.
  4. Provisions requiring the lowest unit rates for broadcast advertising by candidates were deleted.
  5. Contribution and spending limits were raised for House candidates with self-financed opponents.
  6. Parties will not be able to use soft money for building or office construction.

The next step will be a fight in the Senate over whether or not a conference committee is held. Reformers want to avoid a conference, which they feel will give opponents a chance to weaken the bill 60 votes will be needed to avoid a filibuster aimed at forcing the conference. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has led the fight against campaign finance reform bills in the Senate, has not yet committed to a filibuster. He said he is still reviewing the bill, but has concerns about restrictions on issue advocacy. He also noted that the House bill does not have the limits on fundraising by federal officeholders for 501(c) organizations that were in the Senate version. As passed, Shays-Meehan would allow federal officeholders to raise an unlimited amount of money for 501(c) organizations as long as the money is not earmarked for voter registration within 120 days of a federal election, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) drives connected to a federal election or ads that attack or promote a specific federal candidate. Federal officeholders could help raise funds for GOTV and voter registration drives from individuals only, and the amount raised could not exceed $20,000.

Since the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill passed by a 59-41 margin, McConnell may have enough votes to force the bill into a conference committee. However, one Senator who voted against the bill last year, Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC), announced he would vote for the bill this time around. That gain may be offset by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), who pushed for a requirement that broadcasters provide candidates with their lowest unit advertising rate. This provision was taken out of the House bill after heavy lobbying by the broadcast industry. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who voted for McCain-Feingold last year, has raised concerns about unequal tax treatment between contributions to nonprofits and campaigns. However, a spokesperson in his office said it is premature to speculate on his cloture vote. The President has said he will not make a decision on whether or not to sign the bill until he has something in front of him. If the bill is signed into law, McConnell has promised to file a suit challenging its constitutionality.

See the Campaign Finance Institute's summary of the bill's provisions.

Read the full text of the House colloquy on issue advocacy.