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Campaign Finance Bill Filibustered

By David Espo
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, February 26, 1998; 12:18 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supporters of campaign finance legislation failed today to break a Republican-led filibuster, leaving the measure dead for the foreseeable future.

The vote was 51-48, 9 votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome the GOP-led delaying tactics. Within moments, Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., announced he would remove the measure from the floor and begin debate on unrelated legislation.

The vote came after lawmakers on both sides of the issue repeated well-rehearsed arguments on a measure designed to clean up the current scandal-scarred system for financing political campaigns.

The current system is ``broken ... rotten ... corrupting and it ought to be changed,'' said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said the measure, with limitations on certain types of campaign spending, would violate the Constitution. ``The First Amendment doesn't allow us the latitude to categorize certain kinds of speech as offensive and other kinds of speech as laudable,'' he said.

The bill, drafted by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., would ban unregulated ``soft money'' that flows to national political parties from corporations, labor unions and individuals. It also would impose fresh curbs on labor unions and on advertisements that attack candidates but escape regulation because they are presented as ``issue ads'' not covered by existing election law.

The partisan maneuvering was evident to the end in the Senate.

Moments after the Senate failed to end the filibuster on the McCain-Feingold legislation, Republicans forced a vote on their own proposal to deny labor unions the right to spend dues money on political activity without the written consent of individual members. That proposal drew 46 supporters, 12 short of the 60 needed to advance it to a final vote.

Supporters say changes in the law are needed to avoid a repetition of the abuses that occurred during the 1996 presidential campaign. Opponents say that by restricting campaign spending, the bill violates the free-speech guarantee in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Not surprisingly, lawmakers on differing sides of the issue disagreed, as well, about the political ramifications.

Feingold, a leading advocate of the measure, said Wednesday evening that support would grow during the coming election season, as candidates are pressed to give their commitments to support campaign finance legislation. ``A lot of senators are going to realize they're really out of sync'' with the public on the issue, he said.

Countered McConnell: ``No one in the history of American politics has ever won or lost a campaign on this issue.'' He added that three key organizations in the GOP political coalition, the Christian Coalition, National Rifle Association and National Right To Life Committee, oppose the McCain-Feingold bill. In a series of largely symbolic votes Wednesday, the Senate agreed to a compromise on the issue of union dues and attack ads that had been written by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Under her amendment, unions would be barred from using dues money and corporations would be barred from using their own funds to pay for loosely regulated ``issue advertisements'' that are used to attack candidates within 60 days of an election. Other organizations would be permitted to air such ads, subject to speedy disclosure.

That provision loosened restrictions on such advertising that was contained in the original bill, but was significantly less onerous for organized labor than a proposal that Republicans had been advocating.

An attempt by the GOP leadership to kill Snowe's proposal was turned aside, 50-47.

Even with that modification, however, the McCain-Feingold legislation could not attract additional support from Republicans, who mustered 48 votes in opposition to the entire bill on a subsequent roll call.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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