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03/18/98- Updated 11:27 PM ET

House panel passes campaign finance bill

WASHINGTON - On a party-line vote, House Republicans pushed a campaign finance bill through a committee Wednesday, including provisions to curtail union political activity and ban large, loosely regulated donations that flow to the national political parties.

The measure also would allow local election officials to try to verify the citizenship of prospective voters and would permit individuals and political action committees to donate larger sums to candidates than they can under current law.

Stocked with some provisions likely to provoke Democratic objections, and others likely to offend some Republicans, the bill, approved by the House Oversight Committee, faces an uncertain fate when it reaches the House floor.

Common Cause, which advocates overhaul of the campaign finance system, immediately attacked the legislation as a "cynical sham laced with poison pill amendments designed to ensure that the bill will not become law."

House GOP sources described the legislation as an effort by the Republican leadership to maintain control of the floor when the volatile issue is debated, probably later this month. These sources added that the leadership was trying to avoid a situation in which Democrats and reform-minded Republicans wind up passing legislation that most Republicans oppose.

The committee debate was sharply partisan, but there was no doubt that the bill would be approved on a party-line vote.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., the senior Democrat on the panel, charged Republicans with drafting a bill designed to deny unions their rights, intimidate Hispanic voters and increase the political clout of the wealthy. "This is the wealthy and powerful protection act of 1998," he said.

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., the committee chairman, retorted that Gejdenson and other Democrats were making an unseemly "class warfare" argument.

Democrats made numerous attempts to strip out provisions they found objectionable, but were turned aside on a series of party-line votes.

The Senate earlier this year debated campaign finance legislation that included the ban on so-called soft money donations to political parties, but it died in a Republican-led filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi has said that even if a soft-money ban passes the House, he "would not be inclined to bring it up" in the Senate this year.

In the House, where the rules forbid a filibuster, Speaker Newt Gingrich and other leaders concluded they need to include a ban on soft money in their bill - even though they oppose it - in order to hold the support of reform-minded Republicans for critical procedural votes on the floor.

The union provision, which Republicans have dubbed "paycheck protection," requires unions to give individual members of the rank and file the right to decide if their dues money can be spent on union activity.

Republicans first advanced the proposal last year, saying that millions of union members vote for Republican candidates at the same time organized labor spends their dues money without their permission to promote Democrats.

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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