updated 7/14/2004 12:20:51 PM ET 2004-07-14T16:20:51

A key senator expressed support Wednesday for efforts to overhaul the Federal Election Commission, saying he may propose legislation aimed at ending deadlocks on the panel.

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Sen. Trent Lott, chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, said he is considering introducing a bill that would reduce the six-member commission to five members.

“That will guarantee a result in every case,” Lott, R-Miss., said at a committee hearing on the FEC.

The rules committee oversees the agency, which was created more than a quarter-century ago to enforce the nation’s post-Watergate campaign finance laws. The FEC consists of three Republican and three Democratic commissioners.

Lott’s committee has not yet acted on a proposal by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., to replace the FEC with a new three-member panel.

McCain accused the commission of shirking its duty to enforce campaign finance laws. He noted the FEC’s decision this spring to put off a decision on whether it should place new limits on partisan interest groups raising tens of millions of dollars in corporate, union and individual “soft money” contributions for get-out-the-vote activities and other efforts in this fall’s elections.

“Here we go again,” McCain, R-Ariz., told the rules committee. “They don’t act, and they’re gridlocked.”

McCain called on the commission’s chairman, Republican Bradley Smith, to resign, noting Smith’s repeated statements that he opposes restrictions on campaign contributions and spending.

Smith, a Republican, told the committee that the average citizen now has less constitutional protection in criticizing a member of Congress than does someone who engages in pornography, cross-burning or flag-burning.

But Smith, who has said in the past that he would enforce campaign finance laws despite his personal criticism of them, defended the FEC’s performance. He testified that the commission has improved its work as a fair and impartial agency.

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