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Leave a Message for Reform

January 02, 2002

Proponents of campaign finance reform are within a whisker of pulling off a great parliamentary achievement, if only three more members of Congress will shed their faintheartedness and help force a vote on the measure. Two California Republicans, Reps. Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley and Doug Ose of Sacramento, might be persuaded if they hear from enough constituents and other Californians over this holiday recess.

The campaign reform bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) would breeze through the House of Representatives if House leaders would only allow it to come up for a vote. Instead, in a failure of political leadership and courage, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his lieutenants have bottled up the measure in committee.

To drag the bill out of committee by petition requires the signatures of a majority of House members, 218. When the House recessed Dec. 21 for the year, the pro-reform forces had crept up to 214 signatures. One other member has promised to sign, so the forces of good need only three more signatures.

The leadership has threatened Republican members with punishment if they sign the petition. The threat appears to be working. Only one of the 20 Republicans in the California delegation has signed the petition--Stephen Horn of Long Beach, who is not seeking reelection because his seat was dissolved by reapportionment. All 32 California Democrats have signed.

Shays' office notes that Gallegly and Ose are co-sponsors of the reform bill but have not signed the petition. Petition opponents usually claim that they are not against reform but oppose the discharge movement because it undermines the committee process in the House. This is a fine argument for a university seminar but it won't fly in this battle of power politics. Either you are for reform or you're not. And if you are for reform, it appears the only way it can be achieved is to defy the GOP leadership and pull the bill out of committee.

The Shays-Meehan measure generally would ban the use of "soft money" in election campaigns. These are the unlimited contributions that can be made to parties, technically for voter registration, get-out-the-vote drives and voter education programs. In fact, because of a loophole in the existing law the money is used to blanket races with the kind of attack ads that make "politics" a bad word. The Senate has passed a similar bill, and only House action is needed to send the reform to the White House.

Congress is in recess until late January. That gives nonsigners a few weeks to reconsider. Gallegly and Ose in particular should be consistent with their co-sponsorship of the bill and sign the discharge petition. All of California would thank them. As for House leaders, they can hide behind parliamentary rules but they cannot escape responsibility for blocking legislation that is supported overwhelmingly by the American public, regardless of party.

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To Take Action: Rep. Elton Gallegly's Washington office is (202) 225-5811; fax is (202) 225-1100; for e-mail go to www.house.gov/gallegly. Rep. Doug Ose, (202) 225-5716; fax (202) 226-1298; for e-mail go to www.house.gov/ose.

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