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Bush Signs Campaign Finance Bill

President Bush signed landmark campaign finance legislation Wednesday as he opened an aggressive two-state, multimillion-dollar fund-raising swing. The administration downplayed the bill signing, but said that overall it betters the current system of financing elections.

"The bill has flaws ... on balance the president believes it improves the system but it's a far from perfect bill," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Fleischer said Bush signed the measure in the Oval Office with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice present. The lack of fanfare reflected Mr. Bush’s reservations about the legislation, Fleischer said.

"To hold a giant South Lawn ceremony would not have the air of consistency, so the president conducted the signing in a ceremony that was befitting for his beliefs on the bill in its totality," Fleischer said.

Ranit Schmelzer, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, called it a "stealth signing."

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he was thrilled by the signing. "By ending the corrupt soft-money system, this bill will begin to return the legislative process to all citizens and help restore the public's confidence in their elected leaders," he said.

The new law implements the biggest overhaul in the nation's campaign finance laws in a quarter century largely by banning unlimited contributions known as "soft money" to national political parties. In recent years, the Democratic and Republican national parties have each raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in "soft money."

In addition, the law sharply limits such contributions to state and local political parties, restricts broadcast ads by outside groups shortly before elections and doubles to $2,000 the amount of highly regulated “hard money” contributions to individual congressional and presidential candidates.

The National Rifle Association swiftly filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the new law. The NRA was the first in line to file its challenge at the federal courthouse a few blocks from the White House. The legislation "eviscerates the core protections of the First Amendment by prohibiting, on pain on criminal punishment, political speech," said a legal complaint filed on behalf of the NRA and its political victory fund.

In addition to the NRA, a group headed by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the legislation. "Today I filed suit to defend the First Amendment right of all Americans to be able to fully participate in the political process," said McConnell, whose legal team includes Kenneth Starr, the one-time independent counsel during the Clinton administration.

After the signing, Bush flew to South Carolina where he is expected to raise $1 million for Rep. Lindsey Graham who is running for retiring Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond's seat.

Later, the president hoped to bring in $1.4 million for Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, campaigning to face Democratic Sen. Max Cleland — and more than $1 million for Texas Attorney General John Cornyn's bid for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Phil Gramm.