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Backers plan campaign finance vote



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Backers of a bill aimed at the overhaul of campaign finance law said Thursday they have enough signatures on a petition to force a vote in the House of Representatives, reviving an issue that had been stalled since last summer.

Supporters have said their cause has gained momentum because of the controversy over the collapse of Enron Corp., the bankrupt energy giant that was a large contributor to many political campaign committees and candidates for both parties.

"The Enron debacle, if nothing else, shows the urgency of making reform a law. If this isn't an example -- a case -- for campaign reform then I don't know what is," said Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, the House minority leader.

Backers said Thursday they have obtained the 218 signatures they need on a petition to force a vote over the wishes of the House Republican leadership. The document, called a discharge petition, requires signatures from a majority of the House to bring a bill to a vote.

Supporters said 20 Republicans joined with Democrats to reach the 218th signature. Two Democrats and two Republicans -- Reps. Charlie Bass, R-New Hampshire; Thomas Petri, R-Wisconsin; Corrine Brown, D-Florida; and Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts -- added the final four names.

"The confidence in government is being diminished. We need to do something to restore that confidence," said Rep. Connie Morella, R-Maryland, who signed the petition.

"Is this a panacea?" she asked. "It's not a panacea, but it is a good first step for restoring confidence in government and taking soft money out of campaign financing."

A campaign finance bill passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the House in July after Democrats accused Republicans of political maneuvering that would have guaranteed its failure. Since then, it has languished in committee.

Soft money, ads assailed

The House bill, like the legislation that passed in the Senate, would ban "soft money" -- unregulated, unlimited contributions to political parties -- and would raise the limit on regulated contributions to individual candidates. The bill would also set limits on so-called issue ads, political advertisements ostensibly about an issue but with the practical effect of hurting or helping a specific candidate.

"As the Enron storm clouds come in, the public's tolerance for this soft-money system is growing thin," said Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Massachusetts. Meehan and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, have led the campaign finance reform push in the House.

"With each revelation and each additional soft money dollar that rolls in, it is becoming more difficult to defend our current campaign finance system," Meehan said.

Getting enough signatures on the discharge petition, historically a rare event in Congress, does not ensure the measure will pass. Supporters noted that they will have their work cut out for them before that happens.

A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said the GOP leader will deal with the discharge petition promptly.

"The speaker has always said if they get 218, then we'll be taking up campaign finance reform in the House," said Pete Jeffries, a spokesman for Hastert. "We'll carry forth and dispatch with it."

-- CNN's Jonathan Karl and Dana Bash contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 



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