18 Principled House Conservatives Fall Short in Quest to Defeat 527 Bill

House conservatives have been fighting a losing battle in Congress lately. Three weeks ago they narrowly lost a vote to offset a $91.8 billion spending bill. Yesterday they bucked their party leaders again in a losing effort, voting against the so-called 527 Reform Act.

Eighteen House Republicans, led by conservative Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), came up short, 218-209, when six Democrats broke ranks with their party to vote for the bill.

Relatively unknown before the 2004 presidential campaign, 527s became a popular vehicle for voter mobilization and advertising. On the left, used donations from liberal billionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis to attack President Bush, and on the right, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth used its millions to criticize Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.).

“Some in Washington want to rein in 527’s with greater government control and regulation, and that is certainly their right and a path that is consistent with the letter and spirit of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act,” Pence said after the vote. “However, I believe instead of greater government control of political speech, more freedom is the answer and that is why I could not support this bill.”

Pence had planned to offer his own less-restrictive 527 bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Albert Wynn (D.-Md.), but he was thwarted when the House Rules Committee allowed no amendments.

The 527 Reform Act (H.R. 513) requires 527 groups to abide by the same donation limits as other political committees: $25,000 per year for voter mobilization and $5,000 per year for federal elections. Money is now expected to flow to 501(c)4 organizations, which have fewer disclosure requirements.

The bill faced widespread opposition from conservative groups, especially the Club for Growth. The American Conservative Union made an unusual announcement in advance of the House vote that it would score the bill as part of its annual congressional ratings.

But it came too late to make a difference. House GOP leaders rallied around H.R. 513 as part of their reform agenda. It still must win passage in the Senate.

Despite the setback, conservatives noted that if it were not for six Democrats, they would have won. The same could be said last month when 29 House conservatives demanded the $91.8 billion spending bill be offset. But 22 Democrats voted with Republicans, sparing Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) embarrassment after his first big vote.

House Republicans Who Voted ‘No’ on 527 Reform Bill
Roscoe Bartlett (R.-Md.)
Chris Chocola (R.-Ind.)
Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.)
Vito Fossella (R.-N.Y.)
Trent Franks (R.-Ariz.)
Scott Garrett (R.-N.J.)
Louie Gohmert (R.-Tex.)
Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.)
Ernest Istook (R.-Okla.)
Walter Jones (R.-N.C.)
Steve King (R.-Iowa)
Connie Mack (R.-Fla.)
Cathy McMorris (R.-Wash.)
Randy Neugebauer (R.-Tex.)
Ron Paul (R.-Tex.)
Mike Pence (R.-Ind.)
John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.)
Lynn Westmoreland (R.-Ga.)

UPDATE — 12:10 a.m.: Here are Rep. John Shadegg’s (R.-Ariz.) comments about his vote against the 527 Reform Act:

Once again, Congress has decided to protect itself by subverting the American people’s right to free expression. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was wrong, and this bill is wrong. I know that a handful of wealthy liberals are taking advantage of the current law, but more regulation is not the answer. This bill is a wrong-headed, short-term response that will only drive political spending further into the shadows. We need sunshine and openness for groups involved in the political process — not new bureaucratic rules that infringe on our First Amendment rights.