Democrats break GOP filibuster on campaign bill Final Senate vote set for today; passage expected

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats made a series of deals yesterday that all but assured passage of campaign finance legislation that would impose voluntary spending limits but eliminate most of the public financing President Clinton had proposed.

After extracting concessions, 7 Republicans joined 55 Democrats to end the nearly three weeks of debate on the bill. The vote was 62 to 37, or two more than necessary to break a Republican filibuster. A final vote is scheduled today.


Yesterday's actions represented a major victory for Senate leaders and Mr. Clinton -- even though public financing would be open to a candidate only when an opponent spends more than a limit based on a state's population.

Indeed, if the bill becomes law, the voluntary limits may well curb the rise in campaign spending and mark the first important change in election law since 1974, when public financing for presidential elections was adopted.


But final passage of the measure, which will face yet another tough battle in the House, is hardly assured. And even if it makes it through the House, sharp disputes are likely to break out in a House-Senate conference, especially over provisions in the Senate measure, including one that would reduce the maximum contributions of political action committees to $1,000, from $5,000.

Except for that section dealing with PAC contributions and a ban on franked mass mailings by any member of Congress in an election year, the details of the Senate bill apply only to Senate elections. When it takes up the bill this summer, the House is expected to add provisions covering its own elections, which may include public financing,

The public financing that would remain in the bill, under a proposal from Sen. Jim Exon, D-Neb., would be available to a candidate who agrees to abide by the state spending limit if his or her opponent exceeds the limit.

The candidate who agrees to the limits would be eligible for government vouchers to pay advertising or postal costs up to the full amount of the limit. Thus, in a state with a limit of $2 million, the candidate who abides by the limit could get up to $2 million more if his or her opponents spend lavishly, as well as also being freed from the spending limit.

That provision was too much for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., who led his party's opposition to the bill. He said that "as long as it has spending limits and public finance in it, the bill would be unacceptable." And he promised a challenge in court if it becomes law.

It was also unacceptable to nine Democrats who voted against the Exon proposal. One, Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, complained: "I thought we were interested in giving challengers a chance." He said the bill was a "hollow reform," because "without the public financing, I don't see how the challengers have a chance."

But Sen. George J. Mitchell of Maine, the majority leader, said that while he believes in public financing, the bill would still be a major step forward for challengers. "The most significant factor in encouraging competitive elections is to impose a spending limit which dramatically reduces the amount spent by incumbents," he said.

Sen. David L. Boren of Oklahoma, the bill's manager, said most incumbents spent more than the limits in the bill, while most challengers spent much less. He said the measure was a major step toward "leveling the playing field."


Congress passed a similar bill last year, but President George Bush vetoed it, as the lawmakers had expected. The Senate fell 10 votes short of overriding his veto.

The seven Republicans who broke with their party's leaders to end the filibuster were John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, William S. Cohen of Maine, Dave Durenberger of Minnesota, James M. Jeffords of Vermont, Nancy L. Kassebaum of Kansas, John McCain of Arizona and Larry Pressler of South Dakota. The only Democrat who voted against shutting of debate was Richard C. Shelby of Alabama.