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Campaign finance bill gets key Senate vote

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Supporters of overhauling campaign finance laws picked up crucial support from a Republican senator Thursday in their fight to bring a reform bill before the Senate and avoid a filibuster.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, is opposed to the House-passed campaign finance reform bill -- but he plans to back other senators who want to bring the bill before the Senate, a spokesman said.

Smith also said he would vote against the bill if it came to the Senate floor, the spokesman said. Smith "decided that after all this, that there should be a debate on the floor of the Senate," the spokesman said. "Everyone should make their arguments pro and con."

Until now, vote counters had found only 59 of the 60 senators needed to break a filibuster to allow a Senate vote on the House-passed bill.

A spokesman for the bill's chief foe, Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell said the senator was reviewing the bill and had not decided whether he would wage a filibuster.

Supporters of the campaign finance bill want to bring the House-passed bill directly to the Senate floor to avoid a House-Senate conference committee. They argue that a conference would only result in gridlock.

If the Senate passes the same bill the House approved last week, it would go directly to President Bush for his signature.

"I'm very pleased that Sen. Gordon Smith has indicated he will not support a filibuster on campaign finance reform," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a chief sponsor of campaign finance legislation. "I remain cautiously optimistic that we'll eventually prevail but I won't be surprised by any efforts of the opponents to kill the bill."

McConnell and GOP leaders are still weighing whether to delay the bill or simply let it go through and fight it in court, where they believe some key provisions might be declared unconstitutional and thrown out.

The Senate last year approved a reform bill similar to the one passed by the House last week. But the Senate bill had only 59 supporters, one vote shy of the 60 needed to break a filibuster that would block the bill.

That appeared to change last week, when South Carolina Democrat Ernest "Fritz" Hollings said he would support reform, bringing the number to 60. Then, this earlier this week, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska told the GOP leadership he would switch his vote and oppose the legislation -- bringing the number of Senate supporters back to 59.

Now, Smith's declaration brings the number back up to the key 60, but McConnell has indicated other Republicans may jump to his side should he decide to filibuster the bill.




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