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Diverse campaign reform options cleared

The House Administration Committee on Thursday voted out two versions of campaign finance reform.

The first, sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), closely replicates a bill passed by the Senate in March and includes an amendment that would require broadcasters, cable operators and satellite TV providers to offer candidates the lowest ad rate they've charged any advertiser in the past 180 days, rather than the past 365 days as provided by the measure offered by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.).

The committee passed the bill, but in a procedural move, did not "recommend" it, letting other committees and members know that it disapproves of the legislation. Inclusion of the so-called Torricelli amendment means the House Energy and Commerce Committee is likely to ask House leadership to let it take a look at the bill. Committee staff could not confirm at press time whether the committee would ask for the referral, but key committee members have been very vocal about their disapproval of the amendment, as expressed in a letter sent to the House Administration Committee on Wednesday.

The second bill was offered by House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Ney (R-Ohio) and includes no provision that would require media outlets to give politicians deep discounts on political ads. It also includes a disclosure provision much preferred by broadcasters: instead of having to include in public files how much third-party issues groups pay for ads, groups would tell the Federal Election Commission how much they spent to run ads at every outlet they use.

For competitive reasons, broadcasters want to avoid disclosing publicly how much advertisers pay. Leaders of campaign finance reform want the House to pass the Shays-Meehan bill, which mirrors the Senate legislation, so the entire package can pass Congress without going to a conference meeting between the House and Senate.

House leaders say they expect the debate on campaign finance reform to begin on the House floor after the Fourth of July recess, although Congress left town on Thursday and is not coming back until Monday, July 9, which leaves little time to work out procedural issues and political disputes.
- Paige Albiniak