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Campaign reform legislation appears dead

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — For the sixth year in a row, Rep. Jeff McLaughlin watched Thursday as his bill to ban the process of hiding campaign donations through PAC-to-PAC transfers appeared to die in the Senate without coming up for a vote.

McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, said he was more disappointed than in past years because many legislators campaigned last year on a promise to pass the legislation. The Democratic and Republican caucuses in the Legislature had endorsed the bill, which passed the House early in the session, but never came up for a vote in the upper chamber.

“The House has consistently supported this bill. The Senate says they’re for it, but there’s been games played with this bill, even though most people say they are for it,” McLaughlin said.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, moved early Thursday to make the PAC-to-PAC ban the first bill considered, but his motion was tabled on a 19-12 vote.

Although the bill had not come up for a vote in the Senate by Thursday evening, it played a critical part in what was a combative final day of a session marred by a bitter rules fight between the Democratic majority and a minority coalition of Republicans and a few Democrats. Republicans spent much of the day using delaying tactics to urge Democratic leaders to bring the bill up for a vote.

The struggle culminated in the afternoon with a scuffle where Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, hit Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe.

“Partisan bickering is what killed the bill,” McLaughlin said.

A Harvard educated attorney, McLaughlin admitted he is discouraged, but said he would continue to fight for the bill. He said he hopes Gov. Bob Riley calls a special session later this year and includes the issue in the session’s agenda.

“I’ll keep fighting because I feel we need it. This bill will help the voters know where the money backing a candidate is coming from,” McLaughlin said.

University of Alabama political scientist Bill Stewart said the PAC-to-PAC ban is a hard bill to pass. “Because so many legislators benefit from it. They give lip service to the bill, but when push comes to shove they are not willing to bring it up to pass it,” Stewart said.

Stewart also said it’s a complicated issue that some voters don’t understand and may not pressure lawmakers to pass it.

Lawmakers on both sides of the Senate dispute, blamed each other for the demise of the
election legislation, which McLaughlin said would give Alabama one of the toughest
laws in the country concerning the transfer of campaign donations.

“The best thing to do is take this bill up and do the work that was promised,” said Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile.

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

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