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Many Lives of Election-Finance Reform

Two House votes last week keep hopes alive - but just barely - for a sweeping reform bill.

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It's the measure that refuses to die.

Campaign-finance reform - buried earlier this year in the Senate - is still alive in the House, despite the best efforts of the GOP leadership to put it to rest once and for all.

Last week, those who want to change America's campaign-finance system won two crucial votes on the House floor. The victories, while major, may yet only forestall the eventual demise of reform bills. But they also signal that a sizable number of lawmakers want to end business as usual - in which Republican and Democratic fund-raisers can yield $12 million in one night, as they did at separate events last week.

Perhaps more than anything, the House fight over changing the rules of campaign finance points up the GOP's internal battle between the House leadership and a small but determined group of reformers. Indeed, says a GOP reform advocate, the leadership's maneuvers to prevent a vote on the issue have instead angered members and breathed new life into reform efforts.

"Those of us [Republicans] who support campaign-finance reform feel like we're in a chess game with our leadership," says Rep. Christopher Shays (R) of Connecticut, a sponsor of a leading reform bill. "The only problem is the leadership doesn't tell us what their move was."

As campaign-finance reform slowly advances in the face of withering fire, opponents have used procedural votes and hundreds of amendments to try to stop it.

If first you don't succeed. . .

Top Republicans first tried to altogether bypass the top reform bill, sponsored by Representative Shays and Rep. Martin Meehan (D) of Massachusetts. Crying foul, reform supporters beat back that effort in March and launched a counterattack, circulating a petition to force House GOP leaders to bring the Shays-Meehan bill to the floor. When it became clear reformers would soon gain the required 218 signatures, the leaders gave in. As usual, the GOP's slim 10-vote majority in the House left Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia and his team little room to maneuver.

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