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House to take up campaign finance reform

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Supporters of a campaign finance bill passed by the Senate said Sunday they fear their efforts will fail if the House passes a different version.

"We're closer than we've ever been," said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Massachusetts, one of the authors of a House bill that mirrors the McCain-Feingold legislation passed by the Senate in April. He spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The House is scheduled to take up campaign finance reform this week.

The Shays-Meehan bill, like the McCain-Feingold legislation, would ban soft money -- unregulated, unlimited funds to political parties -- and would raise the limit on hard money contributions to individual candidates. The bill would also set limits on so-called issue ads, political advertisements ostensibly about an issue but with the practical effect of hurting or helping a specific candidate.

Many House Republican leaders, however, are backing another bill, written by Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Albert Wynn, D-Maryland. It would not ban soft money, but would cap it at $75,000 per national party, and there would be no caps on state or local soft money.

If the Ney-Wynn bill passes, lawmakers would have to go through a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions.

"If it gets to conference, this bill is dead because we allow the opponents of reform to write it in the House," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, said on ABC's "This Week".

Meehan agreed, saying the Ney-Wynn bill was nothing more than a ploy to kill reform efforts.

"Everyone knows that public interest legislation dies in conference committee," Meehan said. "This is a game."

But Ney defended his bill as a solid reform measure, and he criticized aspects of the Shays-Meehan legislation. Specifically, he said the bill's proposal to ban issue ads 60 days before an election "gags the American people from their right of opinion."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who has been one of the primary foes of campaign finance reform, called the Ney-Wynn bill "a step in the right direction" and said the Shays-Meehan legislation was "fundamentally un-American" because it would limit what outside groups and political parties could say close to elections.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he hoped his signature issue would prevail in the House, describing himself as "guardedly optimistic."

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation", McCain disputed the suggestion that he had bullied some Republican Congress members, seeking their support. McCain sent some lawmakers letters, but said there was noting "inappropriate" about them.

"There was no threats or intimidation," McCain said. "I just asked them to support it."

But House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, criticized McCain's letters, suggesting McCain was threatening not to campaign for GOP lawmakers unless they supported his legislation.

"I think that's out of line," Armey said on "Fox News Sunday". "You campaign for your colleagues because you respect and admire them and you want to see them re-elected."

Armey also dismissed the idea that McCain is critical to the Republican effort to hold onto the House in 2002.

"We'll win our majority back, and we'll do it with or without John McCain," Armey said.

Meehan said the lack of campaign finance reform has prevented Congress from tackling other tough issues.

"The fact is we haven't been able to get a patients' bill of rights because soft money has gummed up the works," he said on "CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer".

"The fact is, HMOs and trial lawyers have contributed millions in soft money to both sides. We don't have Medicare prescription drug coverage for seniors in this country because the pharmaceutical companies have contributed $15.7 million in soft money," he said.

• Election and Campaign Finance Law
• Federal Election Commission
• FEC --Campaign Finance Law Resources

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