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Election reform vote not likely
Senate leaders say a backlog of bills will be top priority on last day

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Leaders in the Alabama Senate say it’s doubtful that election legislation that would eliminate PAC-to-PAC transfers allowing candidates to hide the source of campaign donations will
come up for a vote in the Senate on the final day of the session Thursday.

The legislation passed the House early in the session and was listed as a priority by Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature as well as by Gov. Bob Riley.

Backlog of bills

But Senate leaders say the chamber is facing a backlog of bills on the final day and may not have time to deal with the campaign bill.

“I think it’s going to be slim,” said Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, when asked if the campaign reform bill would come up for debate on the Senate floor Thursday.

The chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, blamed the possible demise of the bill
on a session-long slowdown by minority senators over Senate rules.

“We’ve got so little time left,” said Barron, whose committee makes up the Senate’s daily work agenda.

“It’s a matter of taking care of essential business first.”

Legislation sponsor

But the sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, said he doesn’t understand why his bill is not at the top of the Senate’s list of priorities for the final day.

The House and Senate both go into session at 10 a.m. Thursday and must finish their
work for the session by midnight.

The state’s two operating budgets and a more than $1 billion bond issue for education have already passed, leaving the PAC-to-PAC transfer ban the most high profile legislation that could be considered on the final day — based how often politicians mentioned it during their 2006 campaigns.

“I am going to continue to fight for it. I’m tired of hearing the reasons that the Senate can’t get to it.

The time for making excuses is over,” said McLaughlin, a Harvard educated attorney who has made the campaign reform legislation his top priority since being elected in a special election in 2001.

For six years in a row, the House has passed the bill that would ban the practice of transferring campaign donations from one political action committee to another.

Each year the bill has died without coming up for a vote on the Senate floor.

“It’s a bill that as originally introduced would mean a major change in the status quo, and that is always hard to do,” McLaughlin said.

He said if his original version of the bill passed, he believes it would give Alabama the toughest law in the country
concerning the transfer of campaign donations from PAC-to-PAC.

Ban with no exceptions

The House passed McLaughlin’s original version, which bans the practice with no exceptions, but a Senate committee amended the bill to allow PACs to give to political parties, caucuses and get-out-the-vote groups, like the Alabama Democratic Conference.

McLaughlin said if that version passes the Senate he will recommend the House not accept the changes and send the bill to a conference committee to work out the differences.

Barron said the changes made in the Senate committee were needed to assure that the bill did not go too far and keep small organizations like garden clubs from being able to contribute to their favorite candidates.

“What the House passed would have been detrimental to the election process. We tried to narrow it down and still stop the shuffling around of money between Montgomery political PACS,” Barron said.

He said his first priority for Senators to consider Thursday will be non-controversial bills that have been requested by state agencies.

An example, he said, are bills to raise hunting and fishing license fees and the cost of registering a boat.

Both Barron and Mitchem said a the PAC-to-PAC transfer ban has considerable support in the Senate.

“If we could get it up for a straight up vote in the Senate, I think it will have a good majority,” Mitchem said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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