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04/22/98- Updated 11:43 AM ET

House vote closer on campaign reform

WASHINGTON - Retreating under pressure, the House Republican leadership offered Wednesday to allow comprehensive campaign finance legislation to come to the floor for a vote.

The offer came as supporters of changes in the campaign finance system continued to collect signatures on a petition designed to force the issue to the floor over the leadership's objections. Two Democrats added their names during the day, bringing the total to 204 of the 218 needed.

One senior Republican, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Speaker Newt Gingrich and other members of the leadership had offered to "let the House work its will" on the contentious issue.

Only last month, Gingrich maneuvered to keep legislation from coming to a vote that would have curtailed the flood of money into campaigns.

No details were immediately available about the precise terms that Gingrich had offered the GOP lawmakers demanding a vote on the issue.

But one official said it was likely that the issue would be on the House floor within a month, and that lawmakers would be permitted to offer virtually any proposal that was drafted in advance.

In exchange for offering the allow the issue to the floor, several sources said Gingrich had asked enough Republicans to pull their names off the petition so that Democrats could no longer control its fate.

As of mid-morning, 12 Republicans had signed their names, meaning that if all remaining Democrats did likewise, the petition would surpass the 218 needed.

Several sources said Gingrich and House GOP Whip Tom DeLay of Texas had argued forcefully in a closed-door GOP caucus against using the petition to force the issue. To do so would give Democrats control of the House floor, they argued, and that, in turn could lead to passage of legislation that could seriously damage Republican candidates.

Many advocates of campaign finance overhaul favor legislation to ban soft money, or large, unregulated contributions that political parties receive from corporations, unions and individuals.

Republicans say they fear passage of such legislation unless there are separate provisions curtailing union political activity.

Republicans raise more soft money than do Democrats, but organized labor overwhelmingly favors Democratic candidates.

To buttress his point, DeLay cited the case of Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., who was heavily targeted for defeat by the AFL-CIO in 1996, but was re-elected nonethless with the help of advertisements paid for by the Republicans with the use of soft money.

Hayworth declined comment afterwards.

By The Associated Press

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