Campaign Finance Vote Doesn't Quiet Critics of Congress

Article excerpt

House Republicans hoped last week's vote on a campaign finance bill would neutralize incessant election-year criticism on the issue from the Perot camp and other groups.

But most of these critics reviled the GOP-written bill that was defeated Thursday by a vote of 259-162. They are now angrier than ever as they seek new ways to revamp election financing.

Ann McBride, president of the lobby group Common Cause, called the measure a "phony reform that locks in the corrupt status quo" and would have opened "the floodgates" to special-interest money.

Pat Benjamin, head of Ross Perot's United We Stand America's task force on the issue, said, "We are going . . . to get the message out across the country that a vote for this bill was a vote against campaign finance reform."

She said her organization's support will be pivotal in key races - especially in California, where Mr. Perot's Reform Party is strong. The Texas businessman stresses that the campaign finance issue is critical for his adherents.

Rep. Mark E. Souder, Indiana Republican, after voting against the bill, said: "Nobody liked what happened today. Our base doesn't like it. Common Cause doesn't like it. It was somebody out there with nobody to hug it."

Mr. Souder said the leadership promised a vote on the issue before it realized how risky the question could become. "Once we got out there and said there would be a vote, we couldn't retreat" without the risk of being blistered by the Perot forces, he said.

After the 1994 election, GOP support for changes in campaign finance law diminished. Rep. Linda Smith, Washington Republican, a persistent advocate of change, said Republicans battled vehemently on the issue behind closed doors.

"The old-timers argue that nobody cares how we get money and where," the freshman congresswoman said. "But people care deeply as they drop off by the millions from voting."

Mrs. Smith added that it is difficult for members to vote against rules that help them stay in office. "It's hard to fight for a system that makes you go home to your states to raise money, when you can raise it across the street," she said.

United We Stand America, Common Cause, Public Citizen and the League of Women Voters supported a bipartisan bill that would have banned Washington fund-raisers and "soft money. …