SPEAKER Meehan Advocates Campaign Finance Reform Bill at GU By Andrew Tein Hoya Staff Writer

As the historic Shays-Meehan Bill awaited final Senate approval, Rep. Marty Meehan (D.- Mass.) addressed students on “The Future of Campaign Finance Reform” in the ICC Auditorium Tuesday evening.

“Soft money has had an insidious impact on democracy,” Meehan said. “With special interest groups like the National Rifle Association knocking on the doors of legislators, currying favors and exchanging money, [soft money] has negatively impacted the legislative process.”

The Senate gave final approval Wednesday to an overhaul of the nation’s campaign finance law with the passage of the Shays-Meehan bill and the McCain-Feingold bill, its Senate counterpart. The bills ban the large unlimited contributions to national political parties known as soft money and restrict campaign advertisements by outside groups advocating or denouncing specific candidates. The Senate in a 60-40 vote showed that the effort to limit money in politics had gained support since last year, likely fueled by the recent Enron scandal.

“Banning soft money will definitely have an impact on your generation’s daily life,” Meehan said. “This bill will reshape political parties. They won’t be courting fat cat contributors but voters.”

Meehan stressed the importance of the youth vote, offering hope to the oft-ignored 18-24-year-old demographic. Instead of focusing on ideas, politicians concentrated on raising huge amounts of soft money for TV ads, fostering society’s cynicism, he said.

“They will reach out again. Young people like you form 40 percent of the votership. Perhaps a tax break for the first $10,000 of college education would finally be favored over a multi-million dollar tax break for some giant corporation.”

Though President Bush has indicated he will sign the bill, constitutional issues may prove to be a difficult obstacle. Citing its restriction on issue-advertising, opponents of the bill declare it an abridgment of free speech rights and the right to petition the government. Challengers of the bill including Senators Mitch cConnell (R.-Kent.) and Phil Gramm (R.-Tex.) plan to dispute it in court.

If the bill survives litigation, it will take effect after the November Congressional elections and will make the most far-ranging changes since 1974 in how the political parties and outside groups participate in campaigns.

“One of the reasons I enjoyed working on this bill was because it really was a bipartisan effort,” Meehan said. eehan co-sponsored the House bill with Representative Chris Shays (R.-Conn.) after working closely with Senators John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D.-Wisc.). “You meet a lot of great people in this business.”

Though Meehan noted the many frustrations he encountered in the finance reform battle, he said he drew inspiration from Congressman John Lewis (R.-Ga.).

“John was integral to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He led rallies and thousands of followers in Selma, [Alabama] to battle for equal rights, nearly dying as police sprayed him with tear gas and knocked him down. He said, `I did not march across that bridge at Selma and almost lose my life to be a part of a system so corrupt that it pollutes my idea of life.’ Thinking about John gave me the strength and conviction to continue.”

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