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Campaign Finance Reform

President Bush Signs Campaign Finance Reform Bill

On March 27, 2002, President Bush signed legislation enacting new limits on federal campaign spending. The president, who only reluctantly agreed to sign the bill, did so quietly at 8 a.m. at the White House before leaving on a fundraising trip. Sen John McCain (R-AZ), a prominent supporter of the bill who had opposed Bush for the GOP nomination in 2000, was not invited to the bill's signing.

"I wouldn't have signed it if I was really unhappy with it," Bush told reporters, according to the Washington Post. "I think it improves the system."

According to a summary released by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA), the law bans so-called "soft money" contributions to parties, considered a major loophole undermining previously existing campaign contribution limitations. The bill increases the current limit on individual campaign contributions $1,000 to $2,000. The law also limits issue advertising within 60 days of a general election or 30 days within a primary election.

The bill is now being challenged by its opponents in court.

-- 3/28/02

Congress Considers Campaign Finance Reform Legislation

On January 22, 2001 Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) reintroduced their signature campaign finance reform bill. The bill's primary objective is eliminating so-called "soft money," which allows unlimited fund raising by the two parties and is generally viewed as a major loophole in existing campaign finance reform laws. 

Supporters of the McCain-Feingold bill argue that it is needed to counter the growing influence of money in American politics and a general unraveling of  current campaign laws. Opponents argue that the reforms will undermine First Amendment rights to free speech.

The bill has died in the Senate in recent years because of filibustering by Senate Republicans. A recent announcement of support for the bill by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), however, appears to give the bill the 60 votes it needs to overcome a filibuster.

It is unclear whether the bill will be supported by President George W. Bush, who expressed reservations about the McCain plan during the 2000 presidential campaign. Without Bush's support, the bill will need the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate to overcome a presidential veto -- which appears unlikely.

In addition to the ban on soft money contributions, other provisions in the McCain-Feingold proposal, as introduced,  include:

  • Raising the limit on individual contributions to candidates from $25,000 to $30,000 per year, and on individual contributions to state political parties from $5,000 to $10,000.
  • Prohibiting union and corporation-funded advertisements that mention candidates for federal office at any time within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary.

Reps. Marty Meehan (D-MA) and Chris Shays (R-CT) and introduced similar legislation in the House on January 31.

-- 1/22/01

Nonprofit Disclosure Bill Enacted

On July 1, 2000, President Clinton signed legislation (HR 4762, PL 106-230) that would require certain nonprofits that were spending millions of dollars on election-related issue education campaigns to disclose information about their operations. The bill was passed by the House on June 28 by a vote of 385-39. The Senate passed it on June 29 by a vote of 92-6.

The new law requires nonprofits organized under Section 527 of the federal tax code to disclose information about their own spending if it exceeds $500. It also requires them to disclose information about contributors that give $200 or more per year. Campaign finance reform supporters believe the measure will close a major loophole in existing campaign finance law. 


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