WASHINGTON – A key member of the Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed a Republican-backed bill to limit campaign spending, giving a boost to that bill's chances against a more far-reaching bill supported by most Democrats.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., who heads the 38-member Congressional Black Caucus' task force on campaign finance reform, has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill that would limit, but not ban, soft money contributions to political parties, Bob Ney, R-Ohio, author of that legislation, said in a statement Friday.
With Wynn's support, Ney said, "we have a true, bipartisan effort in reforming campaign finance in a constitutional manner."
Ney's bill is the chief rival to the legislation proposed by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D-Mass., the counterpart to the campaign finance bill that passed the Senate in April. The House is to take up the issue in the first week after it returns from the July Fourth recess.
Shays-Meehan, like the Senate bill of Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., would ban soft money, the unregulated donations that unions, corporations and individuals now give in unlimited amounts to the political parties. It would also restrict certain types of political advertising, called issue ads, during the final 60 days of an election.
In the 2000 presidential election the two parties took in nearly $500 million in soft money.
The House GOP leadership, which regards the soft money ban as a violation of First Amendment free speech rights, is backing the Ney bill which bans soft money for federal election activities such as issue ads but permits it, with a $75,000 cap, for purposes such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.
Ney also requires more disclosure but does not restrict the broadcasting of issue ads before an election.
As in the Senate, the Shays-Meehan bill is backed by a large number of Democrats and about one-quarter of Republicans. But the Congressional Black Caucus has objected to the soft money ban, saying soft money has played an important role in get-out-the-vote campaigns.
"Soft money used properly can mobilize minority voters and increase turnout," Wynn said in testimony last week. His office had no immediate comment on his endorsement of Ney's bill.
Ney also appealed to black lawmakers in his bill by maintaining the current $1,000 limit per election on hard money contributions individuals can make to candidates. Hard money is direct, regulated donations to candidates.
Wynn and other black lawmakers objected to provisions in the Senate bill to double that limit to $2,000, saying that puts candidates raising money from moderate-income constituents at a disadvantage.
Shays and Meehan sought to respond to that concern in their bill by keeping the $1,000 limit, adjusted for inflation, for House elections but allowing the limit to go to $2,000 for more expensive Senate races.
Ney's office said that as of Friday they had only two Democratic co-sponsors, Wynn and maverick Jim Traficant of Ohio, who often votes with Republicans.
While others in the black caucus have also expressed reservations about Shays-Meehan, on Thursday two black lawmakers, Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Harold Ford, D-Tenn., joined supporters of Shays and Meehan at a news conference.
"The reality is that when it comes to the floor you're going to find a broad coalition coming together" behind Shays-Meehan, Ford predicted.