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Democrats cite Enron to push campaign reform

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Questions about Enron's alleged influence within the Bush administration underscore the need to change laws governing campaign contributions, Democrats said Sunday, predicting a reform bill would pass both houses of Congress.

"With the Enron scandal, there's no question that there is real momentum behind campaign finance reform," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

In an interview on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said President Bush "would like to sign a campaign finance reform [bill]," but Card stopped short of endorsing the McCain-Feingold measure favored by many reformers.

As for the possibility the bill would pass both the House and Senate, Card said, "Well, that is a big hypothetical."

Card said the president supported a bill that would impose greater disclosure requirements for contributions and stop soft money contributions from corporations and unions.

Bush also wants a provision he calls "paycheck protection," which would prevent contributions generated by union dues from going to political parties or candidates without workers' knowledge. Democrats, who historically have enjoyed union support, oppose the proposal.

The two leading Senate co-sponsors of campaign finance legislation urged Bush in a letter Friday to promise in his State of the Union address Tuesday night that he would sign campaign finance legislation if it passes Congress this year.

Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, wrote that "such a statement would help assure the American people that you are prepared to work with Congress to restore public confidence in our election system."

The Senate passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill in April, but a companion version stalled in the House before it could be brought up for a full vote.

Supporters of the measure announced Thursday they had collected the necessary signatures on a discharge petition to force a vote in the House during this session.

The petition was signed by 218 representatives, a majority of the chamber's 435 members.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, predicted Sunday there would be a House vote on campaign finance reform no later than "the middle of February," and he predicted victory.

"We don't have the votes yet, but I think we're going to get them," he told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott said that while the chances have increased there "will be a bill," it was far from "inevitable."

Lott and other Republicans took issue with the suggestion that the Enron debacle is an example of influence peddling within Washington.

Some Democrats charge that Enron Corp., a giant diversified energy company based in Houston, Texas, got its way with more than a dozen provisions in the administration's proposed energy plan, crafted in closed-door meetings led by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Republicans noted that many Democrats benefited from Enron contributions. According to the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity, however, that between 1999 and 2001 the company favored Republicans over Democrats by a 3-1 margin.

The Bush administration has acknowledged that Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay, who has since resigned, contacted two Cabinet secretaries before the company filed for bankruptcy, but it maintains the phone calls did not result in any favorable treatment.

"This whole argument that influence is for sale is utter nonsense," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky said on CNN.

"They got nothing, nothing whatsoever, except investigations, criminal prosecutions, subpoenas. They've gotten nothing but problems. Their contributions got them nothing."


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