2001 Scorecard Vote
The current campaign finance system allows polluting industries to contribute millions of dollars to political parties that offer access and influence in Congress. A loophole in the campaign finance laws allows corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals to give large donations, known as "soft money," to political party organizations without regulation by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Direct contributions to candidates for federal office are strictly limited by law and must be reported to the FEC; soft money contributions to the national party organizations are neither limited by law nor regulated by the FEC. In the 2000 elections, the national parties raised nearly $500 million in "soft money," much of it in very large contributions from corporations and wealthy individuals. Some of the largest contributors of soft money are industries such as the mining, timber and oil industries that pollute our nation's air, land and water and seek to weaken our environmental protections.
S. 27, sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Russell Feingold (D-WI), and Thad Cochran (R-MS), would bar political parties from accepting soft money and prevent state and local party organizations from using soft money contributions in federal elections. A similar measure sponsored by Senators McCain and Feingold has failed to pass the Senate since 1995; however, in the wake of the 2000 elections the Senate was finally poised to pass the bill.
During consideration of the bill, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) introduced an amendment to limit, rather than ban, "soft money" contributions to $60,000 per year. It would also have allowed state parties to use soft money for some activities that influence federal elections. The Hagel amendment would have undermined S. 27's ban on soft money and perpetuated the existing legal loophole.
Senator McCain offered a motion to table (or kill) the Hagel amendment. On March 27, 2001, the Senate approved the McCain motion by a 60-40 vote (Senate roll call vote 51). YES is the pro-environment vote. The Senate later approved the McCain-Feingold-Cochran bill, although some environmentalists eventually opposed it because it permitted higher individual campaign contribution limits. A House version of the bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA) was removed from floor consideration when House leadership put forth a rule for debate that was deemed unacceptable by the bill's sponsors. The House bill has not yet passed, but at press time its sponsors had nearly enough signatures on a discharge petition to take their bill directly to the floor, bypassing the House leadership.