- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Opponents of new campaign-finance regulations approved yesterday by the Senate turned their attention to the House amid fresh signs that Democratic enthusiasm for the legislation is waning.

"This is not the bill that the House passed in 1999," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right-to-Life Committee, referring to the Senate's doubling of limits for individuals' cash donations to candidates in the current bill.

The campaign-finance bill approved by the House two years ago would not have increased so-called "hard money" donations, in which Democrats trailed Republicans badly in the last election cycle.

The Senate bill sponsored by Arizona Republican John McCain and Wisconsin Democrat Russell D. Feingold would ban large "soft money" donations to political parties, an area in which Democrats were more competitive in 1999-2000. They raised $243 million to Republicans' $244 million.

Said a senior House Democratic leadership aide, "The bill that's come out of the Senate couldn't pass the House. I don't see support for raising the hard-dollar limits on our side."

As the legislation moved to the House, there were new reminders that Democrats have good reasons not to ban soft money. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri has created a new political action committee with soft money to focus on Democrats' redistricting efforts and his possible presidential run in 2004.

"If it gets shut down, it gets shut down," said a Gephardt aide regarding the PAC's prospects under a soft-money ban.

And the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported that House Democratic Chairman Martin Frost recently made overtures to fellow Texan and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay about the pending legislation.

Mr. DeLay, an ardent foe of campaign finance regulations, told other Republican leaders that Mr. Frost wanted to defeat the bill. But the fledgling effort blew up when word got out, and yesterday neither side was discussing the matter.

Mr. Frost has been warning party leaders that a ban on soft-money donations could put Democrats at a disadvantage due to Republicans' recent success in raising hard money.

One lobbyist said House Democrats and Republicans who dislike the legislation but nevertheless voted for campaign-finance regulations in past years have lost the "cover" of relying on the Senate to kill the legislation.

The House Administration Committee won't decide for a few more weeks how to proceed on campaign-finance regulations. The chief sponsors of a soft-money ban in the House are Reps. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, and Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican.

A spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said the House has more important business to address at the moment.

"We're going to focus on tax relief first," said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. "We're going to focus first on achieving the important parts of the president's agenda."

Most observers expect a debate in the House on campaign finance sometime this summer.

With many House members reluctant to support an increase in donation limits from $2,000 to $4,000 for individuals, opponents of the legislation say a House-Senate conference committee could decide the fate of the bill.

"Our goal is to do whatever we can to kill it in conference," said a Senate Republican leadership aide.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi has said a "non-negotiable" item is a provision that would void the entire bill if the Supreme Court rejects any portion of it. The Senate defeated such a provision last week, but Mr. Lott has said he would insist on it in a conference committee.

"One of the things that's very troublesome to me and others is that … it could go to court and parts of it be stricken down and other parts of it left in place, causing a very unbalanced table in terms of who's helped and who's hurt by all of this," Mr. Lott said yesterday. "I'm sure there's going to be court challenges on all the parts of it."

Mr. Lott said yesterday that he expects Mr. McCain to be appointed to the conference committee. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said on Sunday that he would appoint Mr. McCain to a conference committee if the Republicans did not.

The National Right-to-Life Committee yesterday urged senators to vote against the McCain-Feingold bill, recording the votes on its scorecard of key votes in the 107th Congress. Among its many objections to the bill, the group said an amendment by Mr. McCain approved on Friday would encourage investigations by the Federal Election Commission if an advocacy group engages in activity with a politician that results in "any general understanding" on an issue.

In addition, an amendment by Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, would ban such advocacy groups from funding TV or radio ads that mention the name of a local member of Congress for 30 days before a state's congressional primary, and for another 60 days before the general election.

Opponents of the legislation, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, vow to make those issues key components of a legal challenge to the bill if it is signed by President Bush.

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