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Senate clears way to change campaign financing

The Senate broke a Republican filibuster Wednesday on financing of congressional campaigns and cleared the way for passage of legislation to radically change the way candidates raise and spend money.

The bill would ban contributions by political action committees, the campaign war chests operated by corporations, labor unions and a wide array of issue groups.

Democratic Leader George Mitchell said the Senate would vote today on the measure, which even opponents now acknowledged would pass. Once through the Senate, the measure will go to the House.

The breakthrough was a victory for Democrats as well as President Clinton, who has been urging the Senate to pass the bill.

Clinton called the end of the filibuster "a breakthrough in the fight to give the government back to the American people."

After two previous failures to end the Republican filibuster, the Democratic majority and a handful of moderate GOP senators combined for a 62-37 vote to limit debate.

Sixty votes were needed to cut off the filibuster and permit a final vote on the bill.

Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham voted to end the filibuster; Republican Connie Mack voted to continue it.

The vote came after a compromise plan for use of public funds to finance congressional campaigns was introduced. The plan was sponsored by Sens. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., and J. James Exon, D-Neb.

It would permit public financing only to compensate candidates who comply with voluntary spending limits while their opponents exceed the ceilings.

The money would come from a new 34 percent tax on the campaign committees of candidates who exceed the limits. If the tax failed to cover the amount needed, additional funds would come from repeal of the tax deduction lobbyists can now take.

The candidates complying with the limits would receive money equal to the amount by which the opponent exceeded the limits.

Earlier senators rejected on a 53-44 vote an amendment by Sen. Richard Shelby, D-Ala., that would have eliminated all public financing from the bill.