- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Sen. John McCain upheld his pledge to force the issue of campaign-finance reform on the new Congress yesterday by introducing legislation to restrict campaign contributions, and claimed there is growing momentum for action on the issue this year.

"After one of the closest elections in our nation's history, there is one thing the American people are unanimous about: They want their government back," said the Arizona Republican and former presidential candidate.

Mr. McCain's bill, sponsored with Democratic Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, would ban soft-money donations in federal elections, by which contributors give money to political parties rather than to candidates.

Mr. McCain was joined by Republicans and Democrats at a Capitol Hill press conference to announce the measure.

"The group you see here today is representative of not only the majority of the United States Senate but, we think, a filibuster-proof majority of the United States Senate," Mr. Feingold said.

"We must overcome the cynicism that is growing rampant in our society, we must pass campaign-finance reform legislation," Mr. McCain said.

The Republican maverick cited an Annenberg Public Policy Center study that showed more than $400 million was spent during last year's campaign on issue ads using soft money.

The close election, he said, is "proof that momentum is on our side and we will pass campaign-finance reform legislation and finally follow the American people's will."

Reform supporters say unlimited contributions allow wealthy companies and individuals to buy access to the president and members of Congress, such as when Democrats promised large donors meetings with President Clinton in the months before the 1996 election.

Opponents of the measure say it will restrict private citizens, organizations, and companies from participating and speaking out during election campaigns.

"Unfortunately, the latest incarnation of McCain-Feingold reform suffers the same flaws as its numerous predecessors: It's unfair, unbalanced, unworkable and unconstitutional," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

A similar campaign-finance bill was scuttled by opponents in the Senate Oct. 19, 1999.

Mr. McCain will meet with President Bush at the White House tomorrow, where he is expected to outline the details of his proposal and the extent of its support.

A spokesman for Mr. Bush said the president and Mr. McCain are not deeply divided on the issue. However, the measure does not include language Mr. Bush says is critical for his support: a requirement that corporations and labor unions get permission from their members to spend money in campaigns.

"President Bush believes that we should abolish all soft money, corporate and union," said spokesman Ari Fleischer. "He believes that we should have instant disclosure of contributions, and I think we have room to get things done."

Yesterday was the first day senators could introduce new bills, and Republicans paid little attention to Mr. McCain's announcement, focusing instead on a leadership meeting with Mr. Bush to discuss his upcoming agenda.

"We didn't discuss the McCain bill. Actually, that is not the people's agenda," said Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and majority whip.

As for Mr. McCain's desire to make campaign-finance reform the top issue before Congress this year, Mr. DeLay delivered a dismissive "good luck" to his Republican colleague.

• Andrew Cain contributed to this report.

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