Bill Forces Unveiling of Donors Political Groups Must Say Who's Paying for Ads
WASHINGTON -- Congress approved the first restrictions on campaign financing in two decades yesterday, sending President Clinton legislation that forces tax-exempt political organizations to reveal who is paying for their campaign-style TV ads, radio spots and other activities.
Clinton promised to sign the bill, meaning those reports should be available before this fall's elections.
The bill, approved by an overwhelming majority in the Senate yesterday, would leave many interest groups free to continue broadcasting commercials without naming their donors. And groups affected by the legislation may reorganize themselves under the tax laws to avoid disclosure.
But backers argued it was crucial to preserving one of the pillars of post-Watergate reforms: public disclosure.
"Today is only the first step," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who led a bipartisan group of lawmakers as they rolled the measure past GOP leaders in the House and Senate. "It is indeed a great day for democracy."
The bill only requires disclosure of donations made after it becomes law. Some backers feared GOP leaders might drag their feet in sending the bill to the White House, and supporters speculated that affected groups were now scrambling to raise money before the bill is signed.
Despite initial opposition from Republican leaders, the legislation was approved by huge majorities in each chamber of Congress. It passed the Senate 92-6 yesterday.
Even the Senate's fiercest opponent of campaign finance reform urged his GOP colleagues -- particularly those up for re-election -- to vote yes.
"I do not think this is a spear worth falling on four months before an election," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
He noted the legislation only affects groups that organize under the increasingly popular section 527 of the tax code, which is reserved for groups created for political purposes.
Other tax-exempt interest groups and companies remain free to run ads meant to influence elections without disclosing their donors -- as long as they do not directly advocate a candidate's election or defeat. …