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Campaign finance supporters get boost

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Supporters of campaign finance reform picked up a Republican senator Thursday in their fight to bring the bill before the Senate and avoid a filibuster by its foes.

Though he is opposed to the House-passed campaign finance reform bill and will vote against it, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon will back supporters of the legislation in any votes to bring the bill before the Senate, a spokesman said.

"He hasn't changed his position. He's still going to vote against the bill, but he decided that after all this that there should be a debate on the floor of the Senate. Everyone should make their arguments pro and con," according to the spokesman.

Until now, vote counters have found only 59 senators publicly supportive of breaking a filibuster to allow a Senate vote on the House-passed bill. Sixty votes are necessary to end a filibuster.

A spokesman for the bill's chief foe, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he is still reviewing the bill and has not yet decided whether he will wage a filibuster.

Supporters of campaign finance reform want to bring the House-passed bill directly to the Senate floor to avoid a House-Senate conference of the legislation because they believe that would end in gridlock.

If the Senate were to pass 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, the bill's sponsor. "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 the GOP leaders are still weighing whether to delay the bill or to simply let it go through and fight it in court, where they believe there is a chance some key provisions would be thrown out as unconstitutional.

The Senate approved a reform bill similar to the House-passed bill last April, but it had only 59 supporters, one vote shy of the 60 needed to break a filibuster that would block the bill.

Last week, Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-South Carolina, only one of three Democrats to vote against the bill last year, said he would now support reform, bringing the number to 60.

But this week Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, one of 12 Republican supporters last year, made it clear to the GOP leadership he would switch his vote and oppose the legislation, bringing the number back to 59.

Although Smith brings the number of known supporters back up to the key 60, McConnell has indicated there are other Republicans willing to jump to his side should he decide to filibuster the bill.

Some Senate GOP aides say delaying the campaign finance bill is beneficial to their overall Senate strategy because it would tie the Senate up and prevent Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, from bringing up legislation on his agenda that the GOP opposes.




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