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04/23/98- Updated 01:21 PM ET

Campaign finance bill revived in House

WASHINGTON - Campaign finance legislation has fragile new life in the House, where supporters are scrambling to line up support for efforts to overhaul the current system after forcing the Republican leadership to allow the issue to the floor.

"Make no mistake. This was a retreat not a conversion," said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. "The Republican leadership still opposes reform that reduces the role of money in politics."

Some Democrats, too, harbor doubts about proposals to eliminate unregulated "soft money," for example, believing their party needs it to remain competitive with Republicans.

And Rep. Vic Fazio of California, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, cautioned "I think it will be close but I don't know the votes are there" to approve a major bipartisan measure.

The Republican objective, officials said, remains constant: to avoid passage of legislation that would limit the GOP's ability to raise money while doing nothing to restrict the activity of unions, which spent millions in 1996 trying to elect Democrats.

At least two proposals will vie for support when the issue surfaces on the House floor next month, as well as numerous amendments.

One bill, backed by Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., and Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., would ban soft money, the unregulated donations to parties from unions, corporations and individuals. It also would impose fresh limits on attack ads that are aired as "issue advertisements."

President Clinton, in a statement issued at the White House, embraced the measure, saying that all members in the House have "a responsibility to vote for this measure to ban large soft-money contributions, improve disclosure and restrict backdoor campaign spending."

A second measure, supported by numerous first-termers from both parties, would ban soft-money donations to the national parties, but permit them for state parties. It would require disclosure by organizations that run issue ads.

In addition, other measures are likely to be offered for a vote. Rep. Rick White, R-Wash., for example, said in a statement he will offer his measure to create an independent commission on campaign finance reform.

And Republicans are likely to seek a new vote on a measure that was defeated last month. It would give union members the right to stop their leadership from spending their dues money on campaign activity. This proposal, which Republicans call "paycheck protection," is opposed strongly by the AFL-CIO and congressional Democrats, who fear it would sharply restrict organized labor's ability to support candidates.

Gephardt and other Democrats sought to take credit for the change of plans by Speaker Newt Gingrich and the House Republican leadership, which had been attempting as late as last weekend to keep the issue off the House floor.

But Republicans said it was GOP defections that mattered.

Twelve GOP lawmakers had signed their names to a petition designed to force the issue to the floor over the objections of the Republican leadership. Others said they were prepared to do so. Officials said they feared Democrats would gain control of the floor and legislation could pass that was detrimental to Republican political fortunes.

In exchange for Gingrich's agreement to bring the issue to the floor, Shays and several other Republicans scratched their name off the petition, making it mathematically impossible for Democrats alone to assure its success.

By The Associated Press

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