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Finance reform revived

Campaign-finance reform legislation will go to a vote in the House this year after supporters got the last two signatures needed to force it to the floor.

That puts broadcasters on high alert because the House's primary reform bill includes a provision that would require broadcasters to sell politicians advertising at their lowest prices. That amendment was inserted into the Senate-passed version of the bill last summer by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.). The bill also includes language that would ban so-called "issue advertising" in the 60 days leading up to an election, which is another provision broadcasters don't like but aren't actively protesting. NAB had no comment.

The House now is required to take up campaign-finance reform because 218 members of the body signed what is known as a "discharge petition." Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.), Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and Richard Neal (D-Mass.) provided the four remaining signatures reformers needed to force the vote.

Last year, House leadership narrowly avoided a vote on the issue due to a procedure dispute. Now, the House will vote on three legislative versions of campaign-finance reform. Whichever one gets the most votes will face a final vote in the House.

Observers expect the winning bill will be legislation sponsored by Reps. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), which includes the Torricelli amendment. The main competitor will be a version sponsored by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio). Should Shays-Meehan stand, broadcasters could have a hard time getting rid of the Torricelli provision because the rules set up by the discharge petition limit the number of new amendments that can be offered.

Another opportunity to strip the provision could come in a conference session between the Senate and the House to reconcile two versions of passed bills. Reformers, however, would prefer to pass a House bill that closely resembles the Senate bill and avoid a conference altogether. If that happens and the Torricelli amendment has not yet been stripped, broadcasters likely will have to take the amendment to court.

Due to the recent Enron scandals, observers say campaign-finance reformers have a fair shot at finally getting a bill passed this year. "Enron pushed the issue over the last hill, although we got very close over the summer," says Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns. Enron also forced President George W. Bush to take a clear stand on campaign-finance reform, something he wasn't willing to do last summer.

"The president has made it very clear to Congress that they cannot count on him to veto campaign-finance reform," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who received the news while he was holding his daily press briefing. "The president is committed to having campaign-finance reform enacted into law."