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Campaign finance battle moves to Senate

From Ted Barrett and Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With Senate supporters of a campaign finance overhaul vowing a win now that the measure has passed the House, sources told CNN Thursday that President Bush would sign the legislation if it gets to his desk.

Bush has not said directly whether he would support the bill. Yet three senior Republican sources very familiar with the White House thinking on the issue said Bush has avoided taking a public position to give fellow Republicans who opposed the measure maximum leverage to make their case.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Thursday he will seek to put the bill to a vote on the Senate floor "the minute" it is received from the House. He urged the House GOP leadership, which opposed the legislation, to send the bill over quickly and vowed that any attempts to mount a filibuster would be defeated.

"We know that there are still some in the Senate who think that they may have a chance to keep this bill from becoming law," Daschle said at a morning news conference. "We say to them, 'Look what happened in the House. Opponents in the House used every conceivable argument and excuse, every imaginable ploy. They failed and so will you.' "

Campaign finance fact sheet 
FROM: Individuals, corporations, unions and other advocacy groups

TO: Political parties

AMOUNTS: Unlimited

FROM: Individuals or political action committees (PACs) (Corporations and unions barred from contributing, but can form PACs)

TO: Candidates

AMOUNTS: Limited

Daschle added, "If if looks like we're going to face a filibuster, we're going to find the time and find the way to break that filibuster in the United States Senate."

After almost 17 hours of continuous debate that stretched into the wee hours Thursday, the House approved the Shays-Meehan legislation in a 240-189 vote. The bill is named for its authors, Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, and Martin Meehan, D-Massachusetts.

The measure seeks to curb the influence of money in politics and loosen the grip of special interests over elections. It would usher in the broadest changes to campaign finance law since the years after the Watergate scandal.

The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but passage there is not assured this time around.

Supporters said they are optimistic about the bill's momentum, but Senate backers will need to pick up more votes than they did last year to avoid a filibuster.

Last year, the McCain-Feingold bill -- named after its authors, senators John McCain, R-Arizona, and Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin -- was approved by 59 votes, one shy of the 60 needed to curtail a filibuster. But sources said South Carolina Democrat Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, who voted against the bill last year, will vote with supporters of the measure this time.

If Senate supporters of last year's bill don't change their minds, Hollings' vote would be enough to break a filibuster, allowing a floor vote and sending the bill to Bush for his signature.

House bill gained steam after Enron collapse

The measure had languished in the House since last summer, but was forced to the House floor for consideration after the collapse of the Enron Corp. stirred congressional passions about the political influence of large companies.

The Shays-Meehan campaign finance bill would:
  • Ban national political parties from raising or spending so-called "soft money." This type of funding is largely unregulated and comes from unlimited contributions from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals.
  • Prohibit unions and corporations from using soft money to fund advertising that mentions a federal candidate within 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary.
  • Raise the limit on individual contributions to federal candidates, or so-called "hard money," from $1,000 to $2,000.
  • Triple the amount of "hard money" that can be received by candidates running against a wealthy, self-financed opponent.
  • Allow state and local parties to raise and spend up to $10,000 in soft money from each donor for get-out-the-vote efforts and a few other party activities.
  • In the House, 41 Republicans joined all but 12 Democrats to support the bill.

    Republican opponents, who say that the House bill is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech, offered several amendments they hoped would derail the bill.

    Each of these amendments -- described as "poison pills" by some lawmakers -- failed.

    On Wednesday, Republicans seized on one part of the Shays-Meehan bill they argued was added at the last minute and created a giant soft-money loophole that Democrats would use to their advantage to try to win back control of the House.

    Even the White House, which has otherwise sought to remain out of the limelight on this bill, said the loophole might be enough to kill the bill.

    But Democrats denied they intended a loophole and moved quickly to rewrite that portion of the bill in an effort to quell the criticism. A key provision involving TV and radio ad rates that passed as part of the Senate bill last year was stripped out of the House bill.

    Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey, who pushed the measure that requires broadcasters to sell ad time to politicians at a reduced rate, said it was "problematic" that the House removed the provision.

    But now that the House has passed the bill, a Torricelli spokeswoman said the senator will not oppose the measure.

    In addition to Hollings, two other Democratic senators voted against the bill last year: John Breaux, D-Louisiana, and Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska.

    Though Breaux remains cagey about his vote this time around, it is unlikely that Nelson would change his vote.

    "I certainly want campaign finance reform," Nelson said. "I just wish this would do it in a way that would stand up to a constitutional challenge."

    A spokesman for Nelson said the senator would not join his party and vote to break a filibuster because he does not agree with provisions in this version of the bill.

    Supporters said the Senate needs to break any filibuster and approve the Shays-Meehan bill in order to avoid a House-Senate conference, which they believe would mean endless gridlock for the measure.

    -- CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett contributed to this report.


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