House whip fires early round in campaign-reform fight

Friday, May 15, 1998

Although House debate on campaign finance isn’t scheduled until late next week, the majority whip on Thursday launched a Republican attack saying reform efforts threaten free speech.

“Money is not the root of all evil in politics,” said Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. “Without money, candidates for office on the federal level would not have the ability to get their message out to voters.

“Freedom of speech without the freedom to raise the money to have the people listen to that speech is worthless,” said DeLay, The New York Times reported.

Reform supporters say new limits on campaign contributions, particularly those to political parties from business and labor unions, would prevent the runaway donations and spending that caused a scandal during the 1996 elections.

But opponents say such measures limit speech, thereby violating the First Amendment. Some say the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo equated money with political speech, and effectively undercutting any finance-reform laws the Congress might enact.

The House plans to begin debate on several campaign finance bills next Thursday, although final votes aren’t expected until late summer or early fall.

The GOP leadership failed in its efforts to scuttle debate in March. After reform proponents rallied to force debate, the GOP relented and put the issue back onto the table.

The House leadership placed H.R. 2183, known as the Freshman Bill, on the docket as the base bill for debate but will allow substitute measures to be discussed.

Reform advocates criticize the Freshman Bill, sponsored by 50 Democrats and 21 Republicans, for not including an all-out ban on soft money.

Instead, they are pressing for a measure sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., which prohibits state and federal political parties from using any donations for party building efforts to be used in campaigns.

Ann McBride, president of the pro-reform group Common Cause, said: “While there will clearly be attempts to confuse this issue by offering killer amendments and phony bills masquerading as reform, voting for the Shays-Meehan bill without amendment is the key test of reform.”

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