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Senate Approves New Restrictions on 'Sham' Issue Ads

By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, march 29, 2001; 1:25 PM

The Senate gave its tacit blessing to proposed restrictions on political advertising by corporations, unions and advocacy groups today as it struggled to wrap up its two-week debate on campaign finance reform with a final vote this evening.

Voting 72 to 28, the Senate rejected a proposal that would have killed a key element of legislation sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) to overhaul campaign fund-raising laws. This provision would put new restrictions on issue ads – called "sham" advertising by their critics – that target candidates just before an election.

"No one likes these ads....No one likes to be attacked. Our mothers don't like it, our kids don't like it....But it's part of the system....It's the First Amendment," said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), who proposed to scrap the advertising provision from the bill.

Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.), a principal architect of the advertising provision, said it was aimed mainly at forcing disclosure of those who buy the ads. "How in the world is it unconstitutional to require someone to say who they are?" he asked.

Pending this afternoon is a proposal – as important as any that have come before the Senate in connection with the bill, in the opinion of senators on both sides of the debate – that addresses what happens to the bill if key parts of it are declared unconstitutional. The proposal seeks to assure that the legislation's key provision, which would ban donations of unregulated "soft money" to political parties, will be invalidated if the advertising restrictions are struck down. A close vote is anticipated.

Meanwhile, President Bush said at a news conference that he looks forward to "signing a good piece of legislation" on campaign finance but will withhold judgment until work on the bill is completed.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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