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04/21/98- Updated 08:33 PM ET

Campaign finance petition gains support

WASHINGTON - Supporters of overhauling the campaign finance system gained ground Tuesday in their drive to force the measure to the House floor over the objections of the GOP leadership.

Three Republican lawmakers and two Democrats added their names to a petition demanding the issue be debated on the floor, and other lawmakers have said they are ready to join them.

GOP Reps. Amo Houghton of New York, Tom Davis of Virginia and Zach Wamp of Tennessee as well as Democrats Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and recently elected Rep. Barbara Lee of California brought the number of signatures to 200 - 18 shy of the total needed to force the hand of the leadership.

Lee prompted cheers from fellow Democrats when she signed her name moments after taking the oath of office. "As my first act, I would like to sign the ... petition to have a full and fair debate on campaign finance reform," she said.

In all, 10 Republicans, 189 Democrats and independent Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont have signed the petition. Only 17 Democrats have so far declined.

House Republican leaders discussed the petition drive at a closed-door meeting but came to no conclusion about how to proceed, according to one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The objective of the petition campaign is to force a variety of campaign finance proposals to the House floor for a vote. The principal bipartisan measure, which the leadership has kept bottled up all year, would ban the large unrestricted donations known as "soft money" that political parties receive from corporations, unions and individuals. It also would apply fresh restrictions to late-campaign "issue ads" that are clearly designed to support or defeat individual candidates.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich promised last year he would allow campaign finance legislation to the floor this spring.

Last month, though, the GOP leadership refused to allow the bipartisan bill on the floor for fear it would pass.

The move angered numerous Republicans as well as Democrats, and seemed to impart fresh momentum to the effort to gain the signatures necessary to override the leadership's objections.

Similar legislation was killed by Republican filibuster in the Senate, and Majority Leader Trent Lott said recently he did not anticipate bringing the measure to the floor, even if the House passes it.

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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