House GOP Wants to Upend Campaign Finance Reform Legislation

House Republicans looked to the White House for help Thursday in their struggle to force changes in campaign finance legislation set for a vote next week.

Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., met with President Bush at the White House, one day after telling fellow House Republicans he feared passage could cost them their grip on power.

John Feehery, Hastert's spokesman, described the session as a routine meeting, and noted that the speaker and the president meet periodically to discuss legislation.

Several sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hastert had gone to the White House intending to appeal to Bush to help Republicans win passage of amendments that would rewrite the bill more to their liking.

The legislation would provide the most sweeping overhaul of campaign spending rules since the Watergate reforms of a quarter-century ago.

It would bar national political parties from raising soft money, unlimited donations that corporations, unions and wealthy individuals now give. State parties would be permitted to raise soft money, but its use would be restricted.

The bill also would bar unions, corporations and some independent groups from broadcasting certain types of political advertising within 60 days of an election or 30 days of a primary.

Many Republicans have expressed fears the bill could leave their party at a disadvantage because organized labor would give Democrats an advantage the GOP could not match. Unions are permitted to use dues money for political efforts without permission from their members.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer sidestepped questions of whether Bush would lobby members of the House. He said the measure "partially represents what the president believes is right. There are elements of it that do not," he added, an apparent reference to the issue of union money.

Supporters of the campaign finance bill hope to win House approval next week, then gain swift passage in the Senate without changes. That would send the measure to the White House for Bush's signature.

Opponents hope for a more protracted procedure -- likely to lead to changes to their liking -- in which House passage is followed by negotiations on a compromise.

To accomplish that, they pinned their hopes on passage of an amendment that would make the bill unpalatable to Senate supporters.

As drafted the measure would take effect 30 days after enactment, although supporters seemed likely to make a last-minute change that would postpone the implementation of the new rules until after this fall's election.

One official said parallel vote counts were under way to see whether delaying implementation would attract more support.

The issue was discussed at a closed-door meeting Wednesday in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The South Dakota Democrat's spokeswoman, Ranit Schmelzer, said he would support the change "if necessary to get the bill passed."