Campaign finance bill supporters face possible filibuster, uncertain presidential support

Friday, February 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate supporters of campaign spending limits pledged to move within days to enact legislation that has eluded them for years. A possible filibuster and uncertain White House support make success anything but sure.

Bolstered by a strong vote in the House early Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he would take up campaign finance legislation once it comes over from the House.

``We have the first real chance in a generation to limit the access of special interests to the political process,'' said Daschle, D-S.D. The House voted 240-189 to ban the unregulated flood of soft money donations from corporations, unions and individuals to the national political parties.

Both the House and Senate are off next week and the issue probably will not come up in the Senate until the following week. Senate supporters of the bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., hope to accept it without change, sending it directly to President Bush and avoiding a House-Senate conference where it could be stalled indefinitely.

That may require 60 votes to stop a possible filibuster from the bill's tenacious opponents. They say it weakens the national parties and contains unconstitutional limitations on free speech rights.

Daschle late Thursday proposed that the Senate take up the bill upon its arrival from the House and vote on it after four hours of debate. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the chief opponent of the bill, blocked that proposal from being accepted, but would not say if he planned a filibuster.

``We want to be absolutely sure what's in it. That will determine strategy,'' he said.

McConnell said he liked parts of the bill, particularly a doubling, to $2,000, of the 28-year-old limit on hard money contributions an individual can make to a candidate.

But he said that if the bill becomes law, ``I'd be the lead plaintiff in the case'' to strike down other parts of the bill that prohibit the use of corporate or union soft money for ``issue ads'' in the final 60 days of an election or 30 days of a primary. Such ads are often thinly veiled means to attack a candidate, but McConnell and others say the restrictions violate First Amendment rights.

Supporters say groups could still run such ads if they use regulated, fully disclosed hard money.

The Senate, led by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, passed a bill very similar to the Shays-Meehan bill in April by a 59-41 vote.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., one of three Democrats who voted against McCain-Feingold, said Thursday he would now support it, giving backers the 60 votes they need if all 11 Republicans and independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who voted for it last time, hold their positions. One of those Republicans, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, said he was now against the bill.

But McCain said he thought support would hold. ``If I were a Republican up for re-election in the Senate, I'd ask myself, `Do you want to be part of a continuing filibuster?'''

``Any effort to prevent the Senate from acting on the bill I think would simply delay the inevitable, and frustrate the will of the Senate and the will of the American people,'' Feingold said.

Bush has not actively participated in the debate and on Thursday White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to answer directly when asked whether the president would sign the measure.

``The president will wait to be declarative until he sees what the final bill is,'' said Fleischer. Congressional supporters and opponents of the bill say they believe he would sign it.