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Senate Passes Campaign Finance Bill Aimed At 'Soft Money' - 2002-03-21

The U.S. Senate has passed by a 60 to 40 vote a far-reaching bill reforming the way political campaigns are financed. President Bush is expected to sign the measure into law.

The legislation offers the broadest change to fundraising laws since contribution limits were first imposed in the mid-1970's, after the Watergate scandal.

The bill bans unregulated donations to national political parties, known as 'soft money'. Such contributions, from unions, corporations and individuals, grew from $86 million in the 1992 election to $500 million in the 2000 election.

The measure, which passed the House last month, would also restrict negative broadcast advertisements, known as attack advertisements, in the final days before an election.

Republican Senator John McCain began the push for campaign finance reform seven years ago. "With the stroke of the President's pen, we will eliminate hundreds of millions dollars of unregulated soft money that has caused Americans to question the integrity of their elected representatives," he said.

Senator McCain said recent political scandals, including the collapse of the Enron Corporation, which was a major contributor to politicians, helped build support for campaign finance reform. He also said his own focus on the issue during his unsuccessful race against George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination also helped mobilize support.

Opponents unsuccessfully argued that the bill would weaken national parties and violate free speech guarantees under the U.S. Constitution.

Conceding their legislative defeat, opponents, including Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are looking ahead to court battles over the constitutionality of the measure. "This may be the end of the legislative chapter of this bill, but a new and exciting phase lies ahead as we go to court to seek to protect the rights of parties and outside groups to comment and engage in the political discourse of our country," he said.

The bill, once signed by the President, is to take effect the day after the November 5 Congressional election.