Canton Repository

July 12, 2001

Ohio lawmaker at forefront of campaign-reform debate


WASHINGTON -- Whether campaign finance reform legislation succeeds or fails may rest heavily in the hands of Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.

Ney is the author of a bill being offered as an alternative to more far-reaching legislation to ban national parties from raising and spending money that now is largely unregulated.

Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D-Mass., introduced the more far-reaching bill. It is similar to Senate legislation drafted by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis.

When the House takes up the contentious issue of campaign finance reform today, lawmakers will be bracing for a high-stakes showdown be-tween the Ney bill and what is called Shays-Meehan.

Shays-Meehan would ban soft money and, according to the authors, reduce the influence of money in politics. The Senate approved the similar McCain-Feingold bill in April.

Republican leaders have opposed the ban while Democratic leaders have supported it.

Some campaign reformers have called Ney's bill a farce designed to prevent rather than achieve genuine campaign finance reform. But even they give him high marks for his legislative maneuvering.

Give him credit for getting an alternative out there where he was at least able to get some Democratic support, said Norman J. Ornstein, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who favors McCain-Feingold.

"Whether it's a success or a failure he's obviously shown some talent."

David Owsiany, president of the Buckeye Institute in Columbus, Ohio, said Ney certainly had a reputation as a major player when he was in the statehouse as a state senator. He is a very capable legislator so I am not
surprised that he has taken a lead on this particular issue.

Ney bristles at charges that his bill is a sham. If it were, Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., a backer of campaign finance reform, would not be co-sponsoring it, he said.

Wynn, who previously backed Shays-Meehan, signed on as a co-sponsor after becoming concerned that banning soft money would reduce funding available for voter registration efforts among minorities.

Ney gained a role in campaign finance with his appointment in January as chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees campaign finance legislation.

He introduced his bill after holding hearings on campaign finance reform.

Shays-Meehan would ban national parties from raising or spending unregulated money, while Ney's bill would allow national party organizations to accept up to $75,000 from each individual, corporate or union donor. Currently, there's no limit on the amount of soft money that can be given
to or raised by parties.

Although earlier versions of the Shays-Meehan bill passed the House twice, the Ney-Wynn bill has drawn support from the latest Shays-Meehan bill, raising doubts about whether it will pass.

Some people, including both supporters and opponents of campaign finance reform, view the Ney bill as primarily a vehicle to defeat Shays-Meehan.

"It's just a fig leaf for the Republican leadership," said Marshall Wittmann, an analyst with the Hudson Institute who believes Shays-Meehan would reduce the influence of special interests. While the Ney bill limits soft money contributions to national parties, he said, it allows unlimited contributions to state parties, which will be able to use the money =
to support federal candidates.

Owsiany ventures that Ney is trying to head off a very bad bill with a more reasonable proposal. He argues against both approaches to campaign finance reform, which he said limit the ability of voters to express their opinions and support candidates. But he considers Ney's bill offensive than Shays-Meehan.