Shay’s Bill Receives Enough Signatures to Send Campaign Finance Reform Bill to the Floor

in Connecticut, Justin Hill, Spring 2002 Newswire
January 24th, 2002

By Justin Hill

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24-Rep. Christopher Shays’s campaign finance reform bill garnered the final signatures it needed on a petition yesterday to send the bill to a vote on the House floor over the Republican leadership’s objections.

“This is a very exciting day, and I think it will lead to some good for the country,” Shays said at a news conference at which he was flanked by his partner in campaign finance reform, Martin Meehan (D.-Mass), House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D.-Mo.) and Russell Feingold (D.-Wis.), a co-sponsor of the Senate-passed version of the bill. “Campaign finance reform will finally get a fair vote,” Shays said.

The discharge petition, which forces the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001 to a House vote, received its 218th signature after two Republicans, Reps. Charles Bass of New Hampshire and Tom Petri of Wisconsin, and two Democrats, Reps. Richard Neal of Massachusetts and Corrine Brown of Florida, signed it. Since 1967, only 11 discharge petitions have received the necessary majority of all House members to force a bill to a vote despite the opposition of the majority leadership.

The bill, which Shays introduced in January 2001, would ban most unregulated “soft money,” was shelved in July when the House rejected the Republican leadership’s proposed rules for the debate and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) said he would not voluntarily reschedule the bill.

“The public’s tolerance for this soft-money system has grown thin,” Meehan said. “With each revelation and each additional soft money that pours in, it is becoming all the more difficult to defend our current campaign finance system or stand behind opposing systems that do little or nothing.”

Shays was cautiously optimistic about yesterday’s events, acknowledging that the bill does not necessarily have enough votes to pass in the House. He said he noticed that people in his district wanted campaign finance reform when he attended community meetings, where most of the time people wanted to talk about Enron and campaign finance reform more than they wished to discuss terrorism.

Republican leaders said they would provide a fair vote for Shays’s bill. “We want to deal with the issue as expeditiously as possible and provide a fair forum for it to be considered on the House floor,” Terry Holt, a spokesman for Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, told the Associated Press..

Opponents of the bill say it violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

The Senate passed its version of the bill last year by 59-41.

“Now, for the first time in a long time,” Gephardt said, “we have a golden opportunity to make Shays-Meehan the law of the United States.” The minority leader thanked Shays for his work in getting the signatures.

Twenty Republicans, 197 Democrats and one Independent signed the petition.

Published in The Hour, in Norwalk, Conn.