WASHINGTON - The House rejected a Democratic bid to force a new breed of campaign organization to disclose the names of donors, but only after Republican leaders agreed Friday to bring a GOP version to the floor later this month.
''I believe that the leadership has come to the realization that this is a growing problem,'' said Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, one of a small group of moderate Republicans who met with Speaker Dennis Hastert before the vote.
With Castle and several other supporters of disclosure holding ranks, the Democratic effort led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas failed on a vote of 216-202. A similar effort succeeded in the Senate on Thursday as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Democrats outmaneuvered Republican leaders.
Doggett said after the House vote that despite the pledge made by Republicans, he would renew his attempt next week to force his measure to the floor.
The effort to raise disclosure requirements drew support from Texas Gov. George Bush, the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting. ''I don't know all the particulars of the bill, but the idea of letting everybody who was a contributor to these groups that are advertising for or against candidates - it would be nice to know who they are,'' Bush said while campaigning in Pennsylvania.
The debate over disclosure is all that remains in the current Congress of the drive to enact fundamental changes in the nation's campaign system. Legislation to curb the influence of money cleared in the House despite opposition from the GOP leadership but has been bottled up in the Senate by a filibuster backed by senior Republicans.
Principally at issue in the votes this week are organizations operating outside of federal election laws that mandate disclosure of donors and expenditures. Dubbed ''527s'' for the section of the tax code that permits them to operate, these are nonprofit groups that may run campaign-style commercials, as long as they don't directly advocate the election or defeat of any candidates.
Despite that limitation, they have gained increasing prominence in recent months. One group aided Texas Gov. George W. Bush in his battle for the Republican presidential nomination, for example. And Democrats have filed suit against the House Republican Whip, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, alleging he illegally oversees a network of 527s.
''This is a moment in which Democrats and Republicans can come together to pass an end to the secret organizations with undisclosed money,'' said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
Some Republicans sided with Democrats. ''A 'no' vote is going to be mighty hard to explain in November,'' said Rep. Greg Ganske, R-Iowa.
But Rep. Amo Houghton, a New York Republican whom the leadership chose to draft legislation, cautioned against hasty action. ''In a political year, there are all sorts of pressures. I am a very strong advocate of campaign finance reform,'' he said. ''I do think there's another way of doing this and doing it right.''
DeLay later told reporters the Democrats were guilty of hypocrisy because their legislation would let liberal-leaning interest groups escape disclosure requirements.
Castle told reporters at a news conference that Hastert, Majority Leader Richard Armey and DeLay had agreed to bring the issue to the floor before Congress adjourns at the end of the month for a July 4 break.
In his comments to reporters, DeLay denied that an agreement was made to allow a vote on legislation by Castle but said the leaders will allow a vote on the measure that Houghton produces. DeLay also made clear he personally opposes legislation to compel groups to disclose their donors.
Houghton told reporters he expects to draft legislation that will apply to a larger class of organizations than those covered by the Democratic measure.
The vote on the House floor marked the second time in less than a month that Democrats have attempted to attach their proposal to Republican tax cut measures.
Voting in support were 195 Democrats, six Republicans and one independent. Opposed were 210 Republicans, five Democrats and one independent.