House Republicans take up issue of 527 finance reform

House Republicans plunged into the issue of 527 reform yesterday as conference leaders sought to bridge the gap between two competing pieces of legislation.

On one side is a bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) that would establish funding rules for 527s, while the other, sponsored by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Albert Wynn (D-Md.), seeks to roll back some of the funding caps on national and state parties so that they can compete with 527s.

patrick g. ryan
A bill sponsored by Reps. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), above, and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) seeks to roll back some of the funding caps on national and state parties so that they can compete with 527s.

Leadership has given its tacit approval to Pence-Wynn, but conference members have only just begun to consider the two bills.

Debate was limited during yesterday’s Republican Conference meeting, but strains exist within the party about how to move forward on 527 reform.

“I will not support the [Pence-Wynn] bill,” Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, said after the meeting. “I think the McCain approach that Chris Shays adopted is the correct way to go.”

Castle said the Pence-Wynn approach would “roll back campaign-finance reform from the past few decades.”

He said that he did not know how many other conference members would oppose the Pence-Wynn bill, but members and aides are uncertain if either bill has enough support from House Republicans to pass the House without the support of Democratic leaders.

Leadership is unlikely to schedule a floor vote on either bill before the House takes its monthlong August recess because the legislative schedule is already too crowded in the two weeks that remain, one senior GOP leadership aide said, as members scramble to pass the Central America Free Trade Agreement, extend the Patriot Act and agree on a transportation bill.

Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) said the purpose of yesterday’s conference meeting was to explain both bills to conference members in anticipation of a coming vote and gauge support from within the conference.

During yesterday’s meeting, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman warned members that Democratic 527s have been aggressively raising money in anticipation of the 2006 midterm elections. He told the attendees that Democrats have an “institutional advantage” in raising money through 527s because of the labor unions and special interest groups that line up behind them, attendees said.

These organizations will have much more influence on a congressional level in 2006 because there will not be a presidential election to absorb much of that spending, Mehlman added.

He was followed by National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who warned that 527s were active in attacking Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) during the last campaign and could be more prominent this cycle.

Pence, Shays and former NRCC Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) also spoke.

Pence implored fellow House Republicans to be heard in the finance-reform debate after the Senate dominated much of the discussion during debate in 2002 over the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).

Most supporters of the Pence-Wynn legislation argue that it would give the parties more control of the election process, just as many of the same supporters criticize the BCRA for taking that control away from the parties and creating the opportunity for 527s.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former NRCC executive director and a strong supporter of Pence-Wynn, told conference members yesterday that party fundraising was much more transparent than that done by 527 groups and that such transparency makes it easier for small and large donors alike to participate in the process.
“We eviscerated the parties last time,” Cole said about BCRA on Tuesday before the conference meeting. “You’ve got to put parties back in the game.”

Freshman Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) was the only member to speak in favor of both bills during yesterday’s meeting. Dent told conference members that it was imperative to do something.

“We either regulate the 527s through Shays or we go the other way,” Dent said afterward. “I think it’s important that we do either one. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do both bills.”

Predicting that leadership does not have enough votes to pass either bill as currently written, Dent said it would be a good idea to “marry aspects of both” to get broad Republican support, especially if Democratic leadership opposes both bills.

House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), whose committee marked up both bills, said he did not combine them because they addressed two separate aspects of campaign-finance reform.

Senate passage remains a question after Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) introduced a number of amendments during markup that significantly altered the legislation.

During a breakfast yesterday at La Colline sponsored by The Hill, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.), who has sponsored 527-reform legislation in the Senate, called the Pence-Wynn bill “a joke.”

“Well, we’ll mark him down as a ‘maybe,’” Pence joked in response.