- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

Opponents of new campaign finance regulations lost a key Republican senator from their ranks yesterday, dimming their chances of blocking the bill.
Sen. Gordon H. Smith, the Oregon Republican who faces a stiff challenge for re-election this year, said through a spokesman he is "strongly inclined" to vote against a filibuster when the bill returns to the Senate floor next week.
"The American people deserve a last, final debate on the floor of the Senate," said Smith spokesman Joe Sheffo.
But he said Mr. Smith would vote against the overall bill.
Meanwhile, a White House aide told Republican congressional staffers at a retreat this week that President Bush will sign campaign finance legislation. The White House has been sending mixed signals in recent weeks about whether Mr. Bush might veto the bill, which would ban "soft money" the unregulated donations by individuals and groups to political parties rather than a particular candidate.
Sources who attended the retreat at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia confirmed that David Hobbs, an official in the White House's legislative affairs office, told congressional aides that Mr. Bush will sign the bill. They said he did not elaborate.
Supporters of the legislation say it will end the influence of special-interest money in federal elections. Opponents argue that it will increase the clout of interest groups outside the party system and will impose unconstitutional restrictions on political speech in the weeks before an election.
Opponents of the bill, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, have said they have the 41 votes required under Senate rules to block legislation. But Mr. Smith's announcement makes that less likely; he was one of the senators to vote against the bill when the Senate approved it, 59-41, in April.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said he was "very pleased" that Mr. Smith will not block a final vote on the legislation.
"I remain cautiously optimistic that we'll eventually prevail, but I won't be surprised by any efforts of the opponents to kill the bill," Mr. McCain said.
The House last week approved a version of the campaign finance bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat. Because of differences between the House and Senate versions, the Senate must either approve the House bill or go to a conference committee.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said he intends to bring up the House bill as soon as possible next week. Opponents say a conference committee is their last, best hope to kill the legislation.
It remains vague whether supporters of the bill have the 60 votes needed to limit debate and move to final passage, as they claimed yesterday. A few senators have not yet disclosed how they intend to vote on a filibuster.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, is "strongly opposed" to the House bill, said spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke.
But she said the senator has not decided whether to support a filibuster; he voted against the Senate bill last year.
"It needs to be changed dramatically or killed," she said.
A spokeswoman for Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, said he is "still undecided" about whether to support a filibuster. He, too, voted against the campaign finance bill last April.
Two senators recently have switched their stances on blocking the bill. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, voted against the bill last year but said he will oppose a filibuster. Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, voted for the Senate bill last year but now says he would vote in favor of a filibuster.


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