In a gruelling debate that lasted late into Wednesday night, the US House of Representatives voted 240-189 in favour of a bill that makes sweeping changes to the way in which election campaigns are funded.

The new legislation has yet to go before the Senate and, if approved, also requires the signature of President Bush – unlikely to use his veto on this occasion, it is thought – so will not take effect until after the upcoming congressional elections this year.

Among its provisions is a ban on unlimited donations of so-called ‘soft-money’ – cash donated to political parties by unions, businesses and non-governmental bodies. The bill also forbids the use of such funds for buying advertisements.

Almost certainly, the Enron backlash helped drive through the new legislation, its supporters claiming it will counter the present system under which politicians show favor to wealthy special interests and big business at the expense of the national interest.

Not so, say the bill’s opponents who slam the bill as unconstitutional and a brake on free speech – especially political free speech.

The promoters of the bill are Massachusetts Democrat Marty Meehan and Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays. Similar bills were approved by the House of Representatives in 1998 and 1999, both subsequently rejected by the Senate. But in the wake of the Enron fallout, a similar result this time is thought less likely.

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff