Congress: More Rascality
Congress has done the least they could get away with in campaign finance
reform with the House passage of the Shays-Meehan bill. The least we could
do now is to let our recalcitrant senators know that cleaning up campaigns
is a priority this year.
The campaign finance reform bill was passed August 6 despite the machinations
of the GOP leadership in the House. After working behind the scenes for
months just to get the bill to the House floor for a vote, the bill's sponsors,
Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., had to weave their
way through a week's worth of amendments and substitutes designed to kill
or neuter the bill. However it survived fairly intact to close the "soft
money" loophole, which allows corporations, labor unions, individuals
or "issue advocacy" groups to contribute unlimited amounts to
political parties. The bill also would rein in the last-minute attack ads
that advocacy groups use to savage candidates. Candidates also would face
more finance disclosure regulations.
Republicans have made considerable hay over their investigations into Democratic
fundraising excesses of the past few years, but the GOP has spent the better
part of the past decade killing campaign finance reform legislation. Richard
Winger of Ballot Access News notes that Congress in 1991 passed a
reform bill similar to Shays-Meehan, but President George Bush vetoed it.
This year Shays-Meehan likely won't get past the Senate, so reform will
die once again. The Senate version has 52 supporters, but that is still
eight short of breaking a GOP filibuster. Common Cause has targeted two
senators who are in tight election contests: Sens. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y.,
and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo. Other potential swing votes include
Indiana Republican Sens. Dan Coats and Richard Lugar; Sen. Christopher S.
Bond, R-Mo.; and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. But even if those senators fold,
the numbers still do not add up to passage.
The pressure of the good-government types doesn't faze Sen. Mitch McConnell,
who has led the Senate opposition to campaign reform for the past decade.
As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee this year he
has special reason to protect the GOP's natural fundraising advantage. He
flatly predicted in February that Republicans would not suffer for blocking
the reforms. "No one in the history of American politics has ever won
or lost a campaign on the subject of campaign finance reform," he said,
confidence tinged in contempt for the do-gooders.
The Shays-Meehan reforms would have merely put a patch on the current corrupt
system, but the McConnellites in the Senate wouldn't even stand for that.
OK, when the last rites are intoned over Shays-Meehan, advocates of democracy
should marshal their forces behind a "Clean Money" public financing
bill similar to those passed in Maine and Vermont. Under those bills, candidates
at the state level who agree to take no private money and abide by strict
spending limits would receive public funding for their campaigns. Similar
bills at the federal level were introduced in the House and Senate in 1997
but went nowhere.
When Congress goes back into session in September, the Senate is expected
to vote on an omnibus free trade bill that would expand trade with Sub-Saharan
Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Basin and revive fast-track review
of trade accords. At least by packing several notorious free-trade measures
into one grab-bag the Republicans gave populist opponents a bigger target
to shoot at. Fire away!
The proposal to expand trade to Africa had drawn support of many black members
of Congress, at least until American textile workers -- many of whom are
minorities -- pointed out that the accord would hurt domestic textile production.
Then the Senate Finance Committee linked fast track to the bill. Among other
things, this provision would allow the secret Multinational Agreement on
Investments -- the Bill of Rights for multinational corporations -- to be
considered on a fast track with little public review and debate. The bill
also would prevent environmental and labor conditions from being included
in trade accords. That caused many Congressional Black Caucus members to
declare their opposition. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chair of the caucus,
called the reworked bill "a 'Christmas tree' for multinational corporations."
Lori Wallach, a trade lawyer with Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said
the Senate Finance Committee mark-up adds so many controversial elements
that it sets up Senate filibusters, legions of floor amendments and heated
House opposition if it gets that far.
While the Republicans may have overreached, perhaps in an effort to embarrass
President Clinton before the election, Wallach noted that the largest U.S.-based
multinational corporations are supporting it, and since "this package
would deliver on most of the trade measures that have failed over the past
two years in Congress, the potential support for it in the business world
and among congressional supporters of this agenda cannot be underestimated."
The House in September also will be voting on a $18.5 billion increase for
the International Monetary Fund, which already has been approved by the
Senate. Ruth Caplan of the Alliance for Democracy reports the quota increase
would impose many of the provisions of the Multinational Agreement on Investments
on countries that seek aid from IMF, "because the IMF wants the same
kind of power to remove all local regulation over investments coming in
and out of countries and communities that the [Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development] countries are negotiating in the MAI."
The IMF appropriation that came of the House Appropriations' Foreign Operations
Subcommittee set as conditions that countries receiving aid must liberalize
restrictions on trade in goods and services and on investment. The countries
also must eliminate low-interest loans or subsidies to favored industries,
enterprises, parties, or institutions, including small businesses or poor
Meanwhile, Caplan advised activists to keep organizing against the MAI by
encouraging their local city councils to pass resolutions opposing it. The
National Association of Counties in July adopted a strong resolution which
states in part, "the National Association of counties urges the Administration
not to agree to any provisions in the MAI draft text or similar provision
of any international agreement that would preempt local governments ability
to regulate activities within its jurisdiction."
That didn't stop the House from narrowly voting August 5 to protect the
World Trade Organization's authority. A 228-200 vote rejected an amendment
that would have barred the federal government from legally challenging state
or local sanctions that were found by the WTO to violate international trade
Despite the rejection, the amendment brought together an unusual coalition
of left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans, while the Clinton administration
ended up working with the Republican leadership and more than 600 of America's
largest corporations, organized in the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC),
to scuttle the amendment which would have allowed state or local governments
to impose unilateral sanctions such as those against Burma or Cuba.
So urge campaign finance reform, call for no free trade until fair trade
is assured and reject any increase for IMF unless it protects workers and
the environment as well as bankers and multinational corporations. Call
your congressional representatives and senators at 202-224-3121 or write
c/o the House or Senate, Washington, D.C. 20515.
-- Jim Cullen
For more information contact Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, 215 Pennsylvania
Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003; phone 202-546-4996; fax 202-547-7392; web
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