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Wynn Tweaks Party Leaders Over 527 Bill

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) penned a letter to his colleagues late last month taking aim at the Democratic leadership for failing to embrace his campaign finance reform measure, all but accusing leaders of being wedded to policies that keep the party in the minority.

Wynn’s May 19 “Dear Colleague” letter obtained by Roll Call takes a hard-hitting, yet somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach to the debate within his Caucus on a bill that he is co-sponsoring with Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). Among other things, the bill would remove the aggregate limit that an individual can contribute to all candidates and party committees each cycle. The measure is scheduled for markup today in the House Administration Committee.

Led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Democratic leaders last month voiced their opposition to the Wynn-Pence measure. In a Dear Colleague of their own, the four top leaders said the bill would “enable wealthy individuals and interests to pour unlimited amounts of hard money into federal elections.”

In response, Wynn laid out a “reformer vs. realist” argument.

“Leadership says, ‘Democrats have stood proudly as the party of reform. We must continue to do so,’” Wynn wrote. “We’ve stood proudly as the minority party for 10 years. Must we continue to do that too?”

Wynn reminded that House leaders promised the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act would lead Democrats to take back the House, telling his colleagues: “Funny, this doesn’t feel like the majority to me.”

More broadly, Wynn accused leadership of acting “like we don’t need money” at a time when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is still in debt and continues to be outraised by its GOP counterpart. He concluded by saying that while leaders insist on relying on small donors, the party “should be seeking all sources of support” if it wants to win back the House.

One senior Democratic aide said House leaders don’t perceive Wynn’s Dear Colleague as personal but simply an attempt to win support from fellow Democrats. The aide suggested that Wynn isn’t getting party backing because “the facts are not on his side” and “the policy is bad.”

“This isn’t about the Democratic leadership, it’s about Al Wynn and his bill,” the staffer said. “We just have to agree to disagree. Most Members of the Caucus have made up their minds on this.”

Wynn is trying to grow support for his measure among Democrats in anticipation of its eventual consideration on the floor. The House Republican leadership has tacitly endorsed the the bill.

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) said in an interview that he anticipates that the measure will be passed out of his panel this afternoon and outlined four amendments he intends to offer.

The first, originally sponsored by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), would exempt Internet communications from the definition of “public communications” regulated by the Federal Election Commission. The FEC, when writing the rules for BCRA, originally gave such communications a blanket exemption, but the rule was later thrown out by a federal judge. Hensarling’s proposal would pre-empt the FEC’s rulemaking on the issue later this month.

Ney said he also intends to include a proposal by Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) that would prohibit contributions by foreign nationals to so-called 527 organizations, the independent political groups named for the section of the tax code under which they operate.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) has proposed that 527s be required to report to the FEC in the same way as other federal campaign committees. (They currently report to the Internal Revenue Service.) Ney said he intends to amend Pence-Wynn to include that provision.

Also slated to be included in the manager’s amendment is Ney’s own measure to allow state and local candidates to use soft money to publicize a federal candidate’s endorsement of them within 120 days of an election. Ney has complained that under BCRA he is effectively denied the ability to endorse non-federal candidates through a provision designed to prevent soft money from funding the distribution of materials promoting federal candidates.

Ney acknowledged the fluid coalitions forming on these and other issues as campaign finance legislation resurfaces just two years after BCRA was passed.

“There’s nothing monolithic on these bills,” he said.

That assertion seems to be born out in Wynn’s efforts to garner support for his measure.

Although the Maryland Democrat has declined to reveal where he is seeing support within his Caucus, sources suggest that he has at least some backing for his legislation. In the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Wynn is a member, lawmakers remain generally disappointed in the 2002 reform measure and want changes. The same sources suggested, however, that CBC members aren’t ready to embrace Wynn’s measure outright, fearing it may go too far.

“The price Wynn had to pay to get Republican collaboration may have been too high to get CBC members and Democratic support,” said one aide to a CBC member.

“There are widespread frustrations that changes need to be made,” the CBC staffer added. “The question is if you have no limits whatsoever, is that the right way to go? There has to be a happy medium.”

While the Pence-Wynn bill would remove the aggregate contribution limits, its sponsors have gone to great lengths to assure colleagues that their bill would leave intact the per-committee caps on how much individuals can give per cycle.

As it stands, individuals can give $40,000 per cycle to all federal candidates’ committees. Under Pence-Wynn, individuals would only be restrained by the $4,200 limit per cycle to each candidate, meaning a single donor could potentially give millions to candidates in one party.

Individuals can currently give a maximum of $26,700 to a party committee per year. This is left unchanged in Pence-Wynn, but the current ceiling of $61,400 that an individual can give to all party committees total would be removed, allowing individuals to donate a maximum of $160,200 to all three national committees in a two-year cycle.

The latter calculation is Wynn’s primary pitch for his bill in trying to sway Democrats. He points out that the DCCC often gets the short end of the stick because wealthy individuals have already “maxed out” to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Sponsors of competing legislation, led in the House by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), believe that those aggregate limits are the underpinning of the entire campaign finance system. If lawmakers are allowed to solicit large contributions, they say, conditions would return to much of the same state of affairs pre-BCRA, which outlawed candidates for federal office from raising unregulated soft money. Although under Pence-Wynn it would be hard money, large sums are large sums, the reformers maintain.

Shays and Meehan have a proposal of their own before House Administration. Unlike Pence-Wynn, which seeks to empower the political parties financially in order to better compete with 527 groups, Shays and Meehan would subject the independent political organizations to the same campaign finance laws as other federal political committees, including the ban on soft money.

Although Ney personally supports the Pence-Wynn bill, he indicated Tuesday that he would be willing to mark up Shays and Meehan’s bill, as well.

“I am willing to have a vote on it,” Ney said.

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