Campaign-finance legislation crafted by the Republican leadership went down to a planned defeat Monday night in the House as Democrats and dissident GOP lawmakers protested that they were denied a vote on their own proposals to clean up a scandal-ridden system.
The vote against the major piece of reform was 337-74, much less than the two-thirds approval margin required under an unusual procedure dictated by GOP leaders.
Because the leading bipartisan proposal is trapped in a Senate filibuster, a major campaign-finance bill stands little, if any, chance of becoming law this year.
But the tactics of GOP leaders, which lawmakers say were aimed at fulfilling promises to deal with the issue without risking passage of legislation they do not want, have triggered a ferocious response from both Republican and Democratic sponsors, drawing renewed attention to the issue and ensuring that it will not go away quietly.
"I think that's an abomination," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said of the rules established for the proceedings. Shays has clashed sharply with his party's leaders in recent days over the legislation.
"Let's come back with a real vote on campaign-finance reform and allow the vote on bipartisan reform," added Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass.
The Republican leaders brought the issue to the floor in a package of four bills, with debate limited to 40 minutes per measure, no amendments allowed and a two-thirds vote required for passage.
The major one, which went down to defeat by such a lopsided margin, would have curtailed union political activity and banned large, loosely regulated "soft money" donations to the national political parties.
It also would have permitted individuals and political action committees to donate larger sums to candidates than current law allows.
All four House members from Western New York voted against it.
Another bill, dubbed "paycheck protection," would have required unions to obtain written consent from individual members before using their dues for political activity. It fell on a vote of 246-166.
Two minor bills did pass. One, to ban non-citizens, including legal immigrants, from making donations or expenditures in connection with federal elections, cleared on a vote of 369-43. The other, to require quicker disclosure of contributions, passed 405-6, with one lawmaker voting present.