Campaign Finance Debate Underway In Senate

As the Senate begins its multi-day debate over campaign-finance reform legislation today, industry groups are lobbying intensely against the two major bills that are up for consideration -- one crafted by Sens. John McCain (R, Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D, Wisc.), the other a House-passed measure by Reps. Christopher Shays (R, Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D, Mass.). Ten major business associations are pressing the argument they made in a joint letter to Senators earlier this week that both measures, by including bans on contributions of soft money to political parties, run contrary to the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech. Although the letter didnt state it, the groups also oppose provisions in the bills that would restrict activities of political-action committees, the vehicle through which corporations funnel money to political candidates. In a breakfast speech yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.), the most outspoken Senate foe of the two bills, warned a National Assn. of Manufacturers audience that a key business-sought reform -- an increase in the $1,000 cap on contributions to individual candidates -- is unlikely to be adopted. The speech police are in the majority, he said. Debate is scheduled to end Oct. 19 when, McConnell predicted, there likely will be a cloture vote on something.

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