09/25/97 - 12:45 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Armey: House will vote on finance reform

WASHINGTON - Efforts to pass legislation that would tighten political fund-raising rules and reduce the influence of big donors got a small push forward Wednesday.

Dick Armey, majority leader of the House of Representatives, said House Republicans will bring such legislation up for a vote this fall.

Armey's statement was a boost for the legislation, which has been stalled by GOP leaders on both sides of Congress. But it was far from a guarantee that action is at hand.

His remarks to reporters came a day after President Clinton said he would call Congress back to a special session, if necessary, to get finance reform considered. That threat drew a quick retort from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., that he already had promised to do so.

Armey, R-Texas, offered no specifics of what a House bill would do to overhaul campaign finance laws.

A Senate bill written by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., would wipe out "soft money" donations, the huge amounts that are unregulated because they are given to a party for general activities and not for the benefit of a specific candidate.

McCain characterized his bill's prospects: "If we're in a 10-step process, it's probably the second step, with eight to go."

Armey said: "I can't guarantee it will happen. It's my expectation. I can't tell you what the configuration will be. I can't tell you what the timing will be. . . . We will have something on the floor this fall."

Even without a new law, McCain and Feingold are asking Fortune 500 CEOs to stop "soft money" donations. "At the heart of what we are attempting to do is lessen the need for large donations . . . and to encourage candidates for office to go home and engage in grass-roots, old-fashioned-style campaigns," they wrote in a letter to be mailed this week.

A group of top-level business leaders, including the former chairmen and CEOs of Bank of America and Capital Cities/ABC, held a briefing Wednesday to publicize their "deep concern" with the current system.

"These large money contributions distort the system, giving unequal weight to the opinions of the rich, the corporations and the labor unions," said Jerome Kohlberg, a financier who said he quit giving soft money.

Armey ridiculed Clinton's threat as political posturing and an attempt to divert attention from investigations of fund-raising by Clinton's re-election campaign and the Democratic Party.He likened the threat to saying, "Uh-oh, they're running me out of town so I'll jump up front and pretend it's a parade."

By William M. Welch and Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY