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U.S. House approves campaign disclosure bill

June 28, 2000
Web posted at: 4:33 a.m. EDT (0833 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives has taken a step toward campaign finance reform by voting to require more disclosure from controversial tax-exempt political organizations known as "527s."

At midnight Tuesday the House passed a bill that would require the groups to disclose their identities to the Internal Revenue Service, report all campaign-related spending in excess of $500, and disclose the names of people who donate $200 or more, congressional aides told CNN.

Supporters of the tax-exempt organizations defend the anonymous donations as free speech protected by the First Amendment.

The bill, known as H.R. 4762, won the support of 385 representatives in a roll-call vote while 39 opposed it. A two-thirds majority was required for the measure to pass.

Critics say big money spent on 'attack' ads

Critics of the so-called "stealth PACs" say the groups exploit a loophole in campaign-finance laws that lets them raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from undisclosed donors.

Much of that money is spent on television advertising targeting opposition candidates under the guise of issue advocacy. Most notably, supporters of Texas Gov. George W. Bush were recently exposed as the financial backers of television ads adverse to his former rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

"The American people have a right to know who is funding political campaigns," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia. "They have a right to know who is trying to influence their votes. It's time to close this loophole. Tonight is the first step down a long road toward political finance reform."

The vote was announced Tuesday afternoon after a several-hour, closed-door meeting among GOP leaders, who reluctantly opted to shelve their own plan.

Kasich: Bill is a sham

The Republican plan would have called for greater disclosure, but was criticized as constitutionally questionable because it was so far-reaching.

"This bill is a sham when it comes to real campaign finance reform," said Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, who voted for the bill nevertheless. "It is such a fig leaf; it's a shame. The House had a real chance for reform. We blew it."

"It's not everything we'd like to do," said Rep. Marge Roukema, R-New Jersey. "But we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Instead, the GOP leaders decided to favor a narrower plan backed by campaign reform advocate McCain and a bipartisan group from both chambers.

The White House would support a "balanced bill" that contained no loopholes, said White House Deputy Press Secretary Jake Siewert. He said the administration will have to look carefully at the measure.

"While this would be a broader step, much more needs to be done," he said.

The broader bill that GOP leaders set aside would have required the disclosure of donors to other tax-exempt organizations involved in political advocacy. These include labor unions, interest groups -- such as advocates on both sides of the abortion issue -- and trade organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce.

A similar measure was passed by the Senate earlier this month.



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