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Campaign finance vote said 'Super Bowl tight'

Sponsor predicts House victory

Sponsor predicts House victory

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- While a Democratic legislator predicted his campaign finance reform bill will pass the House this week, a leading Republican congressman called for amendments and described the contest as "Super Bowl tight."

After being stymied last year, the Shays-Meehan bill will come to the floor this week after its supporters got 218 House members -- a majority of the chamber's 435 voting members -- to sign a discharge petition that forced the hand of House leaders.

About 50 Republicans, led by Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, have broken with their leadership to back the bill.

Rep. Roy Blunt, one of the GOP's main vote counters, said the vote would be close. Blunt, the party's chief deputy whip, compared it to last week's Super Bowl, which was decided by a last-second field goal.

Blunt, R-Missouri, said Republicans would push for amendments that would send the legislation to a conference committee, where it would have to be reconciled with the McCain-Feingold bill passed by the Senate last year.

"This is not coming in on a couple of stone tablets. It is not going to be a perfect piece of legislation -- it would be improved by a conference," Blunt said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Massachusetts, told NBC that the bill that he co-sponsored would pass.

"I think we're going to win in the end because the public is behind us," Meehan said. "There are Republicans who are committed, principled and independent, and I think they will stick with us."

'Soft money' a contentious issue

Like the Senate's McCain-Feingold bill on which it is modeled, the House legislation would ban unlimited contributions to parties known as "soft money."

It would raise the limit on direct contributions to individual candidates and set limits on so-called "issue ads," political advertisements ostensibly about an issue but with the practical effect of hurting or helping a specific candidate.

An alternative bill, backed by the GOP leadership, would cap soft money donations at $75,000.

Critics say soft money pays for television ads sponsored by political parties on behalf of candidates -- thus getting around hard money restrictions.

But Blunt said the Shays-Meehan legislation would make "party-building activities and voter registration" drives more difficult, and some Democrats have been reluctant to restrict donations from unions, which are traditionally pro-Democratic.

If amendments are made, campaign finance reform supporters believe the House leadership might use the conference committee process to squash the bill.

"The last thing that the American public will stand for at this point would be another attempt to shove this bill into a conference committee," Meehan said. "We all know that's where public interest legislation dies."

If Shays-Meehan passes the House as is -- virtually identical to McCain-Feingold -- there is no guarantee President Bush would sign the joint bill.

Bush opposed McCain-Feingold reforms during his presidential campaign, but he has not explicitly said he would veto the current bill.

"I presume that, in the end, the president will sign a campaign finance reform bill," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said on "Fox News Sunday."

"I think that the conference ... will work out some of the kinks and hopefully improve it."


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