Campaign-finance reform will go to a vote in the House this year, after
supporters got the signatures they needed to force the issue to the floor.
That puts broadcasters on high alert because the House's primary reform bill
includes a provision that would require broadcasters to sell politicians
advertising at their lowest prices.
That amendment was inserted into the Senate-passed version of the bill last
summer by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.).
The bill also includes language that would ban so-called issue advertising in
the 60 days leading up to an election, which is another provision broadcasters
don't like but aren't actively protesting.
The House is now required to take up campaign-finance reform because 218
members of the body signed what is known as a 'discharge petition.'
Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.), Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and
Richard Neal (D-Mass.) provided the four remaining signatures reformers needed
to force the vote.
Last year, House leadership narrowly avoided a vote on the issue due to a
procedure dispute. Now, the House will vote on three legislative versions of
campaign-finance reform. Whichever version gets the most votes will face a final
vote in the House.
Observers expect the winning bill to be legislation sponsored by Reps. Chris
Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), which includes the Torricelli
amendment. The main competitor will be a version sponsored by Rep. Bob Ney
Should Shays-Meehan stand, broadcasters could have a hard time getting rid of
the Torricelli provision because the procedural rules set up by the discharge
petition limit the number of amendments that can be offered.
Another opportunity to strip the provision could come in a conference session
between the Senate and the House to reconcile two versions of passed bills.
Reformers, however, would prefer to pass a House bill that closely resembles
the Senate bill and avoid a conference altogether.
If that happens and the Torricelli amendment has not yet been stripped,
broadcasters likely will have to take the amendment to court.
Due to the recent Enron scandals, observers said, campaign-finance reformers
have a fair shot at finally getting a bill passed this year.
'Enron pushed the issue over the last hill, although we got very close over
the summer,' said Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better
Campaigns. 'I think there is a much higher likelihood that this will actually
pass now as a result of Enron.'
'While I'm cautiously optimistic about the prospects for success, I don't
underestimate the determination of opponents of reform. I fully realize we're
trying to break both parties' addictions to soft money, and it will be a very
difficult habit to kick,' said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the Senate's
top campaign-finance reformers, in a prepared statement.
'But as the Enron scandal has shown again, until we clean up the way we
finance our campaigns and reduce the overwhelming influence of soft-money
donors, all of us will continue to work under a cloud of suspicion, where the
public always assumes that we serve our own interests before the country's,'
Enron also forced President George W. Bush to take a clear stand on
campaign-finance reform -- something he wasn't willing to do last summer.
'The president has made it very clear to Congress that they cannot count on
him to veto campaign-finance reform,' said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer,
who received the news while he was holding his daily press briefing.
'The president is committed to having campaign-finance reform enacted into
law,' Fleischer added.