- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2000

George W. Bush's espousal of campaign finance reform intensified the challenge that Senate Republicans, divided over the issue, will face next month.
That's when Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, says he will begin hearings on a compromise reform measure introduced by Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.
While Mr. Bush told the New York Times yesterday that Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, "didn't change my views" on campaign finance, Mr. Bush offered his own reform variation during his ultimately triumphant nomination fight with the Arizona senator.
Six days before the South Carolina primary last month, Mr. Bush outlined a similar version of Mr. Hagel's plan and thus gave an added a measure of acceptability to the Hagel bill.
Passage, however, would require sacrifices by Democrats and Republicans alike, Mr. Hagel told The Washington Times.
Senate Republican strategists said privately that the debate that is about to ensue on the bill and efforts to amend it will challenge Republicans to win a public relations battle with the Democrats and much of the press.
"For the major media outlets and the Democrats over the last five years, reform has meant whatever McCain says it is," a senior aide to a member of Senate Republican leadership said. "We need to challenge that and say there are other ways to reform the system."
"The major media and the Democrats will add up the increased amount individuals can contribute and claim this is campaign reform that benefits the rich and the Republicans," the Senate Republican aide predicted.
Unlike the reform Mr. McCain espouses, the Hagel version preserves "soft money" unregulated contributions and increases the limits on federally regulated "hard money" that individuals may give to candidates.
Also unlike a version of the McCain plan, the Hagel bill preserves contributions by interest groups for issue advocacy advertisements.
Because Republicans tend to do better with individual contributions, they expect the Democrats to oppose boosting contribution limits to $3,000 per individual from the current $1,000 ceiling and the total limit individuals may donate to various candidates for federal office.
Mr. Hagel defended limiting soft money contributions to party campaign committees by saying the growing proportion of that money was eroding candidates' control over their own campaigns.
What's more, he said, "Republicans are losing the battle for soft money donations from corporations." Many hedge their bets by giving to both parties, but lately the balance is "tilting toward the Democrats," Mr. Hagel said.
Mr. Hagel told The Washington Times that his bill, introduced last year with bipartisan sponsorship, "was never intended to be any kind of bridge between the McCain and Bush forces. It is intended only to be realistic campaign finance reform bill with some chance of getting passed."
Over the last three years, Mr. Hagel has worked quietly with fellow senators across the aisle and the ideological spectrum, from liberals like Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, to conservatives like Mr. McConnell and Mr. McCain to come up with what Mr. Hagel called a common ground.
That was well before Mr. McCain decided to run for the Republican presidential nomination and before the press linked campaign finance reform with Mr. McCain's success in attracting independent and Democratic voters.
Mr. Bush astonished even some Republicans sympathetic to "balanced" reform by proposing to ban lobbyists from contributing to members of Congress when the body is in session.
To the consternation of some Senate Republicans, Mr. Bush echoed one element of the McCain approach a ban on unions and corporations giving "soft" money to political parties.
Mr. Bush said he would twin his soft money ban with "paycheck protection" legislation. The aim, Mr. Bush said, would be to prevent "union bosses from directly spending roughly $300 million in union dues annually without members' permission to support candidates of the bosses' choosing."
Republicans and Democrats agree there is no hope of enacting a reform that incorporated "paycheck protection" because of Democrats' reliance on union help.
Mr. Hagel and Mr. McCain also support paycheck protection as stand-alone legislation rather than part of a campaign-reform bill.
Mr. McConnell has been adamant in saying no reform is acceptable without a paycheck protection provision.
Unlike Mr. McCain, neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Hagel would ban issue ads by groups like the Sierra Club and the Christian Coalition.

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