WASHINGTON (March 10) - - A determined minority of Senators, all Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), prevented Senate approval of the McCain-Feingold "campaign reform" bill in February - - a victory for NRLC and other groups that oppose government restrictions on free speech about politicians.
However, the House of Representatives is expected to take up speech-restrictive legislation during the week of March 23, with the outcome difficult to predict.
[Please see Action Alert on back cover of this issue.]
Last fall, dozens of Republican House members threatened to join Democrats in voting to prevent the House from adjourning for the year, unless the majority Republican leadership promised that the House would vote on "campaign reform" legislation early in 1998. In response, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) promised to provide such an opportunity.
It is not yet clear exactly which "campaign reform" proposals will be brought to the House floor for a vote, since there are several factions of lawmakers pushing for somewhat different approaches. But each faction has put forward proposals that would restrict the right of citizen groups such as NRLC and NRLC affiliates, and political parties, to communicate with the public regarding the positions and voting records of those who hold or seek federal office.
At NRL News press deadline on March 10, it appeared likely that the main bill to be considered by the House would be assembled by pro-abortion Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Ca.), chairman of the Committee on House Oversight, and would contain speech-restrictive provisions opposed by NRLC.
A number of other groups have also come out in strong support of the right to free speech about politicians, including the Christian Coalition, NRA, Concerned Women for America, Americans for Tax Reform, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
[See the ad that appears on page 13 of this issue.]
Despite the failure of the McCain-Feingold bill in the Senate, if the House passes speech-restrictive legislation it could put pressure on the Senate to revisit the issue before the end of the year.
In the House, speech-restrictive legislation is supported by most of the House's minority Democrats, including House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.). But such bills are also being pushed by a number of Republi-cans, including Reps. Linda Smith (Wa.), Zach Wamp (Tn.), and Asa Hutchinson (Ar.).
NRLC and other groups fighting to protect the right to speak freely about the voting records and positions of politicians won an important victory in late February, as a determined minority of senators led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Republican Leader Trent Lott (Ms.) once again blocked the McCain-Feingold "campaign reform" bill from advancing through the U.S. Senate.
(See Senate roll call chart, page 24.)
The Senate fight was essentially a replay of last October's Senate debate on the same issue, without a single senator changing sides in the meantime. Once again, a narrow majority of senators voted in favor of advancing the McCain-Feingold bill. This majority included all of the Senate's 45 Democrats, plus Republican Senators John McCain (Az.), Fred Thompson (Tn.), Olympia Snowe (Me.), Susan Collins (Me.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), John Chafee (RI), and James Jeffords (Vt.). However, supporters of the bill were unable to muster the 60 votes required, under Senate rules, to "invoke cloture" and force an end to debate on the bill.
Supporters of the bill tried to pick up additional support by promoting what they called a "compromise" revision to one portion of the bill, which was offered as an amendment by Senators Snowe and Jeffords. NRLC sent a series of letters to Senate offices explaining that the Snowe-Jeffords amendment contained unconstitutional restrictions on the right of issue-oriented groups to broadcast TV or radio ads regarding politicians' positions on issues, and in any event, made no change at all to the worst provisions of the McCain-Feingold bill itself.
The Snowe-Jeffords amendment was adopted, but the revision did not convince any senators to support the McCain-Feingold bill itself.
NRLC's Johnson commented, "Despite all of the free promotion of the McCain-Feingold bill by the news media, despite millions of dollars worth of paid advertising by special-interest groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, and despite the phony-compromise ploy of Senators Snowe and Jeffords, backers of the McCain-Feingold bill did not pick up a single additional senator's vote since the Senate considered the bill last October. This is a tribute to the hard work of many pro-life and pro-family activists in educating the public and pro-life lawmakers about the dangers posed by this legislation."
Analyses of various bills to restrict free speech about politicians can be found at the NRLC website under "Campaign Reform and Free Speech," at www.nrlc.org/campaign.html. The NRLC website includes a powerful search engine that can take you quickly to documents that address any specific issue you wish to explore.
These materials are also available by mailing a request to the NRLC Federal Legislative Office at 419-Seventh Street, N.W., Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20004; by faxing a request to (202) 347-3668; or by e-mailing a request to Legfederal@aol.com. Request the "Free Speech Packet," and be sure to include your mailing address.