- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Senate Democrats yesterday set the table for a campaign finance vote this week, filing a procedural motion to close debate, approve the bill and send it on to President Bush.
Both supporters and opponents of the measure expect that sometime in the next few days, almost a year after they passed their own version of the bill, the Senate will give final approval to a similar House measure that would ban national political parties from collecting "soft money" and restrict the way parties and interest groups can run ads in the days before an election.
"This time we already know where the Senate stands, and we all know that what stands between this bill and the president's desk is simply our action," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, and, along with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, a chief sponsor of reform.
If passed the bill would go straight to the president, who has told lawmakers he would like to sign reform legislation. Mr. Bush hasn't taken a position on this particular bill, and it violates some of the principles he set out last year for an acceptable bill, but his spokesman has said there are some parts he likes.
Opponents of the bill say they still want backers to prove they have the 60 votes required to complete action on controversial bills in the Senate.
"There will have to be a cloture vote," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, who opposes the bill. Cloture means securing the 60 votes necessary to end debate and proceed on the floor.
Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, filed a cloture motion. The two sides are still working on a way to avoid an all-night session that would be required if Republicans followed through on a filibuster threat, but Democrats released a list of senators who will preside over the all-nighter if it does happen.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and an opponent of the measure, has been pushing for some changes to the bill that he calls technical. He said yesterday he and the bill's supporters are close to an agreement on the amendments and if agreement is reached, that could head off a prolonged debate.
The Senate passed a version of reform last April, 59-41. Then last month the House passed a slightly different bill, 240-189. The House bill is now before the Senate, and supporters say it is imperative to pass the bill unamended in order to keep it from going to a House-Senate conference where it could die.
Mr. Feingold and Mr. McCain have said they have the votes to defeat all amendments.
"The moment for reform has arrived. After 6 years of work on this bill, more than a decade of scandals that have threatened the integrity of our legislative process, I do believe that this body is ready to get the job done," Mr. Feingold said.
The bill prohibits national political party committees from raising soft money, uncapped contributions that the committees spend on issue ads and organization activities. It would also heavily restrict the amount of soft money state and local parties may raise, and how they may spend it.
The bill also requires outside interest groups who wish to run ads about candidates before an election to raise money for those ads the same way the parties do in small-dollar contributions.


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