WASHINGTON - House proponents of overhauling campaign finance laws are trying to bypass Republican leaders and force the issue to the floor.
Needing 218 signatures from a majority in the 435-member House, they will asked their colleagues on Friday to begin signing a discharge petition to bring various legislative campaign proposals directly to the floor for debate and votes.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle sought a commitment from Republican leader Trent Lott to allow an up-or-down vote early next year on campaign finance legislation. Daschle, D-S.D., had earlier insisted on such a vote this year, but both parties created a stalemate by successfully filibustering each other's proposals.
The House petition was begun by a group of conservative Democrats, and Republican leader Dick Armey of Texas dismissed it as not "weighing heavily on my mind."
"I think there are some very important campaign reforms that should have been done a long time ago," he said. He specified proposals to require full disclosure of all campaign contributions and expenditures and to prohibit unions from spending any member's dues for political purposes without his or her prior approval.
But the discharge petition is supported by Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri and other senior Democrats.
"This may be the last opportunity we have to have campaign finance reform brought to the House floor before the Republican leadership recesses for three months," said Laura Nichols, a spokeswoman for Gephardt.
Nichols acknowledged that not all of the House's 208 Democrats would support the petition and some aides suggested that as many as a few dozen would reject it.
"If there are three dozen, well then, we're dead," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who with Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., authored a bill supported by President Clinton.
Shays predicted about 20 of the House's 225 Republicans would sign the discharge petition, but only if Democrats stand united behind it.
By The Associated Press
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