Monday, September 10, 2001



Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2001 at 4:00 AM

It is reasonably well known that U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of MemphisÕs 9th congressional district has become a big-time player in the cathode-tube universe of Inside-the-Beltway Washington. What is not so widely known is some of the dramas the 31-year-old third-term congressman has played in.

A road-show version of one of them, called ÒCampaign-Finance Reform,Ó came to the University of MemphisÕ Faulkner Lounge Friday, and a good time was hand by all, despite the absence, due to a prostate operation, of the dramaÕs main player, Senator John McCain (who, said Ford at one point with respectful irreverence, Òis the one that sucks up all the air timeÓ).

The other familiar cable-news faces were there, however Ð Sen. Russ Feingold, the Senate co-sponsor, with McCain of the major extant reform bill, McCain-Feingold; Reps. Chris Shays (R-Ct.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), sponsors of the companion House bill Ð along with two not-so-familiar ones, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a legendary veteran of the Civil Rights movement; Rep. Marion Berry(D-Ark.); and Scott Harshbarger, head of Common Cause.

All had their moments in the presentation of the common cause, which was, of course, the bill to ban impose strict limits on the cornucopic, corporate-tainted Òsoft moneyÓ which the sponsors all feel restricts the civil rights of ordinary Americans and favors special interests.

Among other things, the bill would:

* Ban soft money contributions to the national political parties from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals.

* Provide a clear distinction between expenditures on behalf of candidates Ð which would be subject of the financial limits of federal election law -- and those used to advocate issues;

* Curtail undisclosed soft-money expenditures for issue ads in the closing days of campaigns;

* Require timelier disclosures and establish stiffer penalties for violations.

As Ford and the other panelists noted, McCain-Feingold is now bottled up in the House, where members will have to approve a discharge petition in order for the bill to be considered on the floor.

At a brief press conference before the event, Ford was cited by his fellow panelists as a major force in the effort to pass McCain-Feingold. He has been the subject of several articles noting his missionary work for the bill with fellow African Americans in Congress.

ÒWhen we started a few weeks ago, there were only five African-American members willing to say they were for the bill. By the time we get to a vote, that number should be close to 30,Ó said Ford, who attributed an early reluctance by black members to a belief that soft-money contributions were a boon to black fund-raising, since individual hard-money donations at the maximum level were harder to come by.

ÒI think I finally convinced many of them that you could judge who the bill would help and who it would hurt by the people who were lined up on both sides of it,Ó Ford said.

A bit of time-space-warp commentary was provided at the forum by Rep. Shays, who told the audience that Rep. Meehan had "gotten up at 6 a.m. this morning so he could be at Gracie Mansion." It turned up that Graceland Mansion, the home of the late Elvis Presley, and not Gracie Mansion, home of New York's mayor, was what he meant. Meehan said that he had indeed boarded a 6 a.m. flight to Memphis so that he could check out Elvis' house. -- J.B.

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