For the first time in its quarter century history, the Federal Election Commission on Monday agreed to let candidates for federal office pay themselves salaries from the political donations they gather.

By a 5-1 vote, the commission that regulates election laws approved the proposal that will allow candidates to pay themselves at a rate equal to the salary of the job they held when they decided to run, or the salary for the federal office they are running for, whichever is less.

U.S. House and Senate members make $150,000 a year. The president earns $400,000 a year.

Commissioner Michael Toner, who sponsored the idea, said it would help scale back some of the advantages of incumbents and wealthy candidates and perhaps encourage average Americans who otherwise couldn't afford to give up their jobs to run for office.

"Candidates of modest means too often have been crowded out of running for office,'' Toner said. "It may allow people like blue collar workers, school teachers and others who don't make six-figure salaries to run for office.''

The lone commissioner to vote against the idea, Karl Sandstrom, said he was concerned that the plan was not constitutional because it would allow some candidates to make more than others.

The plan applies only to candidates who run for Congress or the presidency. And presidential candidates who accept partial taxpayer financing of their campaigns won't be allowed to pay themselves salaries.

In the 2000 elections, President Bush bypassed public financing for the primaries while Democrat Al Gore accepted taxpayer help. Both men accepted public financing for the fall general election.