Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The bill that many House liberals called a Valentine's Day present to the American people may quickly be stamped "return to sender" if it is delivered to President Bush for his signature.
The House passed the Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Bill (H.R. 2356) early the morning of February 14th , over the objections of conservatives who argued that the bill imposed unconstitutional restrictions on the First Amendment rights of issue advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association, the Sierra Club and other groups from across the political spectrum.
Now conservatives on the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) appear to be laying the groundwork for a presidential veto of the bill or significant revisions in the Senate by using Bush's own words.
In an e-mail message circulated to House members and reporters Tuesday, the RSC referred to a letter President Bush wrote to then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) last year detailing the six principles Bush believed should govern any campaign finance bill sent to the White House for Bush's signature.
According to the RSC, the version of the Shays-Meehan bill passed by the House violates all six principles.
"Not one of President Bush's six reform principles," the RSC memo claims, "is incorporated into Shays-Meehan."
No members were available to comment on whether the RSC memo is an attempt to set up a Bush veto of the bill. But White House has not ruled out a veto.
Those principles laid out by Bush, according to the letter, included:
* Protect the Rights of Individuals to Participate in Democracy
* Maintain Strong Political Parties
* Ban Corporate and Union Soft Money
* Eliminate Involuntary Contributions
* Require Full and Prompt Disclosure
* Promote a Fair, Balanced, and Constitutional Approach
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), an RSC member, says the bill doesn't even past the first of the president's six "tests."
"Shays-Meehan is blatantly unconstitutional, and is hostile to free speech. It will muzzle citizen groups by preventing them from placing ads on radio and TV 60 days prior to an election," Akin said in a statement. "The right to free speech is one of our most cherished and guarded rights and should not be infringed."
On Bush's second point David Mason, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission, told CNSNews.com the day the bill was considered that he believes it will weaken the parties.
"This is an attack on the political parties," Mason said. "And, to the extent that it survives the courts, it will succeed."
The RSC complains that the bill would severely limit what activities parties could engage in and restrict their fundraising abilities. While some may argue that that, in itself, might not be a bad thing, the RSC says the provisions definitely weaken the parties.
The group points out that Shays-Meehan would also prevent the parties from raising money to donate to other groups, and from making independent or coordinated expenditures on behalf of candidates, "decimating one of the core reasons for parties to exist, to help elect candidates to office."
RSC member Rep. Mark Green (R-Wisc.), says the bill also fails to ban soft money as Bush requested.
"While it bans soft money to national parties, it still allows millions in these unregulated contributions to go to state and local parties," Green argued after the bill was passed. "It doesn't actually attack the soft money problem, it simply shifts it from the national level to the state and local level."
Contrary to providing for the "full and prompt disclosure" called for by Bush, the RSC believes the new requirements for disclosure concerning activity that merely mentions the name of a federal candidate will actually discourage rather than encourage citizens to participate in the political process.
Attorney and campaign finance law expert Cleta Mitchell says Shays-Meehan will have exactly the opposite effect from what the president desired.
"We will have much less disclosure under this bill," Mitchell told CNSNews.com .
Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), another RSC member, admits there are problems with the current campaign finance system. Nonetheless, he is highly critical of both the Shays-Meehan bill, and its authors.
"The sponsors of this bill were lying to America about what it does and doesn't do. Their bill only pretends to fix things, while making things worse with attacks on free speech, a brand-new set of huge loopholes, and more confusion than ever," Istook said after the early morning vote."
Whether Bush would veto the bill is uncertain, and supporters of the measure have expressed optimism because the White House has not significantly weighed in on the legislation. However, a veto has not been ruled out either.
On the day the Shays-Meehan bill passed the House, presidential Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush "has been very clear that he wants to sign a bill that improves the current system. Parts of that legislation surely do. Other parts are not as fully consistent with the president's principles."
Fleischer added the president will "wait to see what the final form is once it comes out of the Senate, and then he will have something declarative to state. Until then, I'm just not going to presume what action the president would take."
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