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Campaign finance supporters praise Supreme Court ruling

White House cautiously supportive

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(CNN) -- Supporters of campaign finance reform are hailing as a major triumph Wednesday's Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on unlimited "soft money" political donations and restrictions on outside political ads.

The decision clears the way for the McCain-Feingold law, as it is commonly known affter its Senate sponsors, to be used in the 2004 elections.

"This opinion represents a landmark victory for the American people in the effort to reform their political system. Now that the court has spoken, we must make sure that the law is properly interpreted and enforced," said Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Russell Feingold, D-Wisconsin, in a statement.

Also signing the statement were Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut and Marty Meehan, D-Massachusetts, who helped lead the fight for passage in the House.

A group that helped lead the fight for campaign finance restrictions, Common Cause, also hailed the Supreme Court's ruling.

"The toxic link between donors who write six-figure checks and people in power at the highest levels of government has been severed for good," said Chellie Pingree, the group's president, in a statement.

The White House reacted more cautiously, with a senior administration official noting that the president had signed the bill into law and believed it was constitutional.

"The president supported the campaign finance legislation and signed it into law because he believes it helped improve the system, and I think today's court ruling will help bring some clarity to the process," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "Our counsel's office will be reviewing this rather lengthy decision."

While opposing campaign finance reform during his 2000 campaign, when he was running against McCain in the Republican primaries, Bush later changed his stance and signed the measure after it cleared Congress.

Three Democratic presidential contenders immediately praised the ruling, with one calling the White House position disingenuous.

"I fought for McCain-Feingold because I believed it was not just consistent with the Constitution, it was necessary to preserve its basic promise of one person, one vote and stop the corrosive influence of big money on our political system," Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said in a statement.

"George Bush, on the other hand, fought this law all along until his position became politically untenable. And now he's doing his best to violate the spirit of campaign finance reform by staking his re-election on the huge stake he's being given by special interest contributors."

Lieberman also added a jab at two of his rivals, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and former Vermont Gov.Howard Dean, who, along with Bush, are the only candidates to eschew federal matching funds in the 2004 race, allowing them to raise and spend as much money as they can.

Those contributions of so-called "hard" money, or direct contributions to a candidate from individual donors, are different than the "soft" money banned by McCain-Feingold.

"The way to beat [Bush] is not to mimic him, as some of my opponents have done in opting out of the public financing system, but to fight for what is right, and show the country the consequences of George Bush's lack of integrity and his special interest sell-out," said Lieberman.

Kerry also issued a statement calling Wednesday's ruling "a victory for democracy over big corporations."

Former Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, another presidential candidate, also praised the ruling.

"In 2002, I led the fight in the House of Representatives to restore confidence and trust in our democracy by reforming the nation's campaign finance laws. I knew McCain-Feingold would have political ramifications, but I supported it because it was the right thing to do," he said in a statement.

"The Supreme Court's decision today to uphold essential provisions of this historic campaign finance reform law vindicates this fight."

Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money for Republican House candidates, said the ruling would solidify the GOP's advantage in Congress.

"Republicans will continue to out-raise Democrats. And Republicans will grow their lead in Congress, not just because of money, but because we reflect the views and concerns of a majority of Americans," Reynolds said in a statement.

"For years, Democrats pretended that they wanted campaign finance reform, all while relying heavily on soft money," Reynolds added. "Today's ruling breaks the Democrats' back."

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