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Senate Republicans to introduce campaign finance measure to require donor disclosure
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Republicans plan to introduce broad campaign finance legislation they say would require business and labor groups engaged in political "issue advocacy" to name their contributors.
"We are introducing the 'Tax Exempt Political Disclosure Act' to bring sunshine to our campaign finance laws and to provide full disclosure of groups which have heretofore not been held accountable but have been subsidized by the American people," said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), the bill's chief sponsor.
The legislation expands upon the campaign finance measure introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) and passed by the Senate last week that would require secretive political organizations -- known as "527s" -- to disclose their donors.
The 527s, which get their name from a section of the tax code, can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money without naming their donors. The groups typically advocate specific issues generally aimed at political candidates.
McCain, the former GOP presidential hopeful, has championed the issue of campaign finance overhaul. During the presidential primary season, certain 527s filled the airwaves with attack ads, some of which targeted McCain. The organizations gained notoriety most recently when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed a racketeering lawsuit against House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), for his association with several 527s.
At a press conference Thursday, Smith explained that while he voted for last week's Senate amendment on 527s, he "winced" because the measure was only "half a loaf."
"What we're getting with this bill is the rest of that loaf," he said of his own proposal. Joining him were Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Conrad Burns (R-Montana).
"The Senate last week decided it wanted to go down this road, so my view is if the majority of the Senate wants to go down this path, let's make sure it's effective," McConnell said. He added that in spite of the group's efforts to craft a measure that ultimately would pass constitutional muster and not infringe upon the First Amendment right to free speech, he anticipated litigation on the issue.
The bill includes and expands upon the McCain-Lieberman provision, and would require 527 organizations that are not already subject to the Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) to: File publicly available tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service; release reports specifying political expenditures over $500; and identify donors who contribute more than $200 annually for political activities.
The measure would apply to tax exempt labor and business organizations that tend to spend substantial amounts of money on political ads, including the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Trial Lawyers Association and the Service Employees International Union.
The legislation does not include a disclosure requirement for other tax exempt groups such as 501(c)4 organizations, which would affect special interest organizations that support both political parties -- groups such as the National Rifle Association and the National Right To Life Committee.
"The amendment the Senate voted on last week, Burns said, "was narrow. It was not broad enough or deep enough. This broadens it and also puts an air of fairness out there where everybody can operate under lightbulbs and sunshine."
"With this bill, we shift the focus to where it belongs, not on controlling speech ... but on the question of to whom you may be beholden in order to get the money to do that," said Bennett. "That's where the focus should be."
"I get terribly upset by some of the issue advocacy ads I see, not because they're saying something stupid -- we all have the first amendment right to do that -- but because I don't know who is saying it," he added.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) is said to support the measure, although McConnell said he was unsure when the majority leader would schedule floor action for the bill. The House, McConnell said, is expected to take up a similar provision prior to the July 4 recess.
McCain and most Democrats support more comprehensive campaign legislation that would, among other things, ban unregulated contributions -- known as "soft money" donations -- to political parties, but perceive disclosure requirements as an important first step toward reform.
Smith said Thursday that he is looking for support from Democrats and that he has not yet spoken to McCain personally about the measure.
"I fully expect Sen. McCain will support this," Smith said. "This is McCain-Lieberman added upon; this simply includes everyone you can add under the Constitution."
A spokeswoman for McCain said Wednesday: "If they're serious, we welcome it, but we have yet to see the final language and as a result can't make any real judgments."
Friday, June 16, 2000
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