Congress

Liberal outside groups lobby for campaign finance overhaul

A coalition of 71 hopes to persuade House members to approve campaign finance, ethics law overhaul

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., leaves a meeting of House Republicans at the RNC, June 16, 2015. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A coalition of 71 mostly liberal organizations is mobilizing to persuade House members to approve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s campaign finance, ethics, lobbying and election laws.

The House Rules Committee, according to a notice on its website, is expected to consider the bill next week, priming it for the floor. The measure, which has widespread support among House Democrats, has no GOP backers and is expected to pass the House on a party-line vote as soon as next week. The Republican-led Senate is unlikely to consider the legislation at all.

The outside groups — which include campaign finance overhaul organizations such as Common Cause, Democracy 21, Public Citizen and the End Citizens United Action Fund — not only urged all House members to vote for the bill but also to vote against any amendments viewed as “weakening” the measure and “any motion to recommit to weaken or remove any provision in the Act,” according to the letter.

Controversy over a Republican-led successful motion to recommit erupted in the House chamber on Wednesday during a vote on a bill to expand gun background checks.

[House passes gun legislation with GOP add-on]

The House passed the bill along with a last-minute GOP amendment that would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be notified when an undocumented immigrant fails a firearm background check.

Under the rules of the House, just before final passage, if a motion to recommit passes that is with instructions to report a bill or joint resolution “back to the House forthwith with the following amendment,” the amendment is immediately incorporated into the bill.

Advocates for H.R. 1 say they’re worried Republicans might employ such a tactic on the measure when it moves to the floor.

“Our political system is dangerously broken and the American people know it,” the letter stated. “They are deeply concerned about the rigged system in Washington that benefits wealthy individuals and powerful special interests at the great expense of more than 300 million Americans. H.R. 1 is a holistic approach to repairing the rules of our democracy.”

House and Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have blasted the bill, including its provisions that would create a federal holiday on Election Day, and an optional 6-to-1 public matching system for campaign donations under $200. Republicans argue the measure would usurp local control of elections including by mandating new requirements for early voting and online voter registration. They also say it could inhibit political free speech and that Democrats are rushing the bill for political reasons.

The bill “was drafted to serve the special interests of Democrats and the outside organizations that support the Democratic Party,” Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, the ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee, said Tuesday during the panel’s markup of the measure.

[No cracks in Democratic unity as ethics overhaul glides along]

He and the committee’s two other Republican members offered nearly 30 amendments during the markup, but all were rejected on party-line votes. House Administration approved the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote.

Proponents of the bill argue that it would make it easier for Americans to vote and would offer new public transparency on the money aimed at influencing elections as well as impose new conflict-of-interest rules on U.S. presidents.

“Spurious and misleading arguments are being made against H.R. 1 by opponents who want to keep in place the unjustifiable status quo,” the outside groups said in their letter. “The American people and our organizations will be watching your votes on H.R. 1, including the motion to recommit, which will be judged by history.”

In addition to campaign finance-focused organizations, numerous other liberal-leaning groups signed on to the letter, including the Center for American Progress, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and People For the American Way.

Though the overhaul package is highly unlikely to be enacted during the current Congress, supporters of the various components included in it have broken out and separately introduced some of those measures in the hopes of ginning up potential bipartisan, bicameral support.

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