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House Republican leaders are bracing for a close vote on their push to rein in the free-spending nonprofit groups known as 527s, even as the details of the legislation the House plans to vote on Wednesday remain in flux.
The groups disproportionately backed Democrats in the 2004 elections, spurring the GOP drive to limit their fundraising ability. But in what might otherwise be a party-line vote, some members of the conservative Republican Study Committee are raising concerns about the measure, complaining it doesn’t go far enough to simultaneously roll back other campaign finance restrictions.
If enough RSC members buck their leadership when the measure comes to a vote on the House floor Wednesday, they could sink the 527 bill.
However, going too far in appeasing the RSC membership carries risks of its own. Despite the potential for a floor fight in the House, the bill’s chances in the Senate are already poor, with the Democratic leadership in that chamber on record as opposing it.
A proposal offered by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) would place 527 groups under the same federal campaign contributions limits that political action committees face. Under the bill, 527s would be required to file reports with the Federal Election Commission. Opponents of the bill argue it would drive big donors to contributing to 501(c) groups, which do not have to report their donors publicly.
Several leading members of the RSC said they were still making up their minds Monday and won’t come to a decision until they see what form the final measure takes.
Key to that decision will be the fate of two amendments Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the RSC, plans to offer today in a Rules Committee markup.
The first would substitute for the Shays-Meehan measure a competing bill authored by Pence and Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) that would reverse many of the campaign finance limits enacted in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The Pence-Wynn bill would lift aggregate limits on individual donors, repeal limits on total spending by national parties, and allow unlimited money transfers from leadership political action committees to party committees.
Pence’s second proposal would eliminate spending caps imposed on party committees when they coordinate their activities with individual candidates.
A GOP leadership aide said with major decisions about the bill yet to be made, it is unclear how much support it will gather when it heads to the floor.
“Pence personally is opposed to the bill as it stands, and will take many others with him,” the aide said, noting that while the Indiana Republican is not speaking for the entire RSC, his position carries influence with the group. “I don’t know what that will translate into as to how many votes can be peeled off.”
That number could hold the key to the bill’s success or failure. GOP leaders can afford to lose only 14 Republican votes, assuming the minority hangs together in opposition.