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03/17/98- Updated 09:28 AM ET

GOP plans new campaign finance bill

WASHINGTON - In the latest battle over campaign-related legislation, Senate Republicans are angling to block the Federal Communications Commission from giving candidates free or lower-cost broadcast time.

The provision, included in a measure that provides funds for recent natural disasters and overseas military operations, is likely to draw objections from Democrats when the Senate Appropriations Committee debates the issue Tuesday.

"We shouldn't be in the business of telling the FCC under these circumstances what they can and cannot do, because the law is pretty clear - that they have the authority to do this," Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle told reporters Monday.

"And I guess what I would warn my Republican colleagues, if they want to get back into campaign finance reform, I can't think of a faster way and a better way to do it," added the South Dakota lawmaker. He said if Republicans insisted on their FCC-related provision, Democrats would consider offering other campaign finance-related amendments to the bill when it reaches the Senate floor.

The FCC is drafting proposals at President Clinton's request that would require broadcasters either to provide free time or give deeper discounts on ads than they do now. Republican critics say lawmakers should have the final say over the issue.

The GOP move comes in the wake of the failure of campaign finance legislation to get past a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate. Most GOP lawmakers opposed a centerpiece of the bill, which would have banned the unlimited, loosely regulated donations to national political parties known as soft money.

Ironically, House Republican leaders have evidently concluded they must include a soft money ban in legislation they are drafting for floor consideration, even though they oppose the provision. Otherwise, according to GOP officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, the leaders fear they would lose control of the issue to Democrats as well as members of the GOP rank and file who favor fundamental changes in the system for financing campaigns.

"The trick is to make sure a Democratic campaign finance reform bill doesn't pass the House," said one Republican lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity.

GOP officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the emerging legislation would also curtail union political activity by requiring organized labor to obtain written consent of individual members before spending their dues money on campaign activities. Republicans have dubbed this provision "paycheck protection," although Democrats say it is a thinly veiled attempt to wreak revenge on the AFL-CIO, which tried to topple the GOP congressional majority in the 1996 elections.

These GOP sources also said the measure would allow individuals to donate larger sums to candidates of their choice than under current law. In addition, it probably would include a provision permitting local election officials to seek verification of citizenship of prospective voters.

The prospects for passage of such a measure would be uncertain, these officials acknowledge. Many Republicans are likely to oppose it because of the ban on "soft money" that corporations, unions and wealthy individuals make to the parties, they say. Many Democrats would probably oppose the curb on union campaign activity as well as citizenship verification.

In the House, where the rules forbid a filibuster, Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and other leaders have evidently concluded they need to insert the ban on soft money into their bill in order to hold the support of reform-minded Republicans for critical procedural votes on the floor.

Current plans call for the measure to be considered on the House floor within the next two weeks, although that timetable could slip, officials said.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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