Campaign reform bill passes in Senate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 21, 2002

BNI Newswire

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he feels the federal campaign finance reform package which passed 60-40 Wednesday afternoon violates free speech.

Noting earlier in the day he expected the bill to pass, Shelby said, "I continue to have significant concerns with the current bill before the Senate. Specifically, I believe the legislation violates constitutionally protected rights of free speech."

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"I believe that the we can achieve reform of our campaign system, without abridging constitutionally protected rights, by enforcing existing laws and requiring greater and more timely disclosure of campaign activities," added Shelby.

President Bush, who is known to have some concerns with the bill, still has indicated he will sign the act. It will take effect on Nov. 6, the day after this year’s congressional races.

Supporters of the bill were able to avoid a lethal filibuster in the Senate Wednesday by getting 68 votes to end debate, eight more than needed.

The bill, which provides the first sweeping changes in federal campaign finance since the post-Watergate period, will:

· Prohibit national parties from receiving unlimited "soft money" contributions and limits such donations to state and local parties to $10,000. It restricts soft money to get-out-the-vote and voter registration efforts.

· Double limits to $2,000 for the amount of regulated "hard money" an individual can contribute to a federal campaign, and indexes future increases to inflation.

· Prohibit special interest groups, such as those representing unions and corporations, from broadcasting ads that refer to a specific candidate within 60 days of a general election, and 30 days of a primary. While those groups can finance some ads through political action committees, they must disclose the names of their donors.

· Triple limits on hard money for congressional candidates running against wealthy and largely self-financed opponents.

Supporters of the bill have said the scandals involving the bankruptcy of the Enron Corp., a major contributor to candidates and campaign committees, helped the bill to gain momentum. Enron tried unsuccessfully to get Bush Administration officials to help the company in the days before the bankruptcy.

The passage was considered a major victory for Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who unsuccessfully ran for president pushing campaign finance reform legislation and who has worked with a Wisconsin Democrat, Sen. Russ Feingold, to pass such a bill.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who says the spending restrictions in the bill violate First Amendment free speech rights, said he would go to federal court to fight the bill.