- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

Money and politics, not reform, are on the minds of lawmakers as the full Senate begins considering the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill today and wavering Democratic support spells trouble.
The bill's ban on unregulated campaign "soft" money, including limitless contributions for issue advertising by party committees, is unlikely without sharp increases in current limits on federally regulated donations to candidates and national parties, congressional sources and election law analysts said.
The fear of proponents that federal election campaigns have spun out of control $500 million of soft money was spent in the last election cycle is overtaken by another fear, that national political parties cannot survive without the unrestricted cash. Several analysts said this at a Brookings Institution forum to review prospects for Senate action on campaign finance reform over the next two weeks.
"If you ban soft money, only [federally regulated] hard money is left," said Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). "How are parties going to fund themselves?"
Currently, individuals are limited to giving a total of $25,000 in any two-year election cycle to federal candidates and national parties. Individuals can give $2,000 to each candidate. Political action committees (PACs) can give $10,000 to candidates with no aggregate limit. Corporations and labor unions are barred from making contributions from their treasuries to candidates but can contribute "soft money" to national parties.
The federal hard-money limits have not been raised since 1974.
In the 1999-2000 campaign cycle, according to the FEC, a total of $692 million in hard money was raised by both candidates and their national parties. Republicans raised $447.4 million and Democrats raised $270 million.
The reality is setting in with Democrats, who provide the majority of support for McCain-Feingold, that the soft-money ban is not in their party's self-interest, said Thomas E. Mann, Brookings' chief election-law analyst.
"There are reasons to question the sincerity of Democratic unanimity behind McCain-Feingold," Mr. Mann said, particularly since Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana bolted last week over concerns that his party would hurt itself by prohibiting soft-money donations.
Further, he said, the AFL-CIO's opposition to restrictions on issue advocacy advertising by labor unions, corporations and independent groups, and broadly defined limits on coordinated political activities with political candidates and party officials spells further trouble on the Senate floor.
Another bill, proposed by Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, and Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, is regarded as the most likely compromise.
The bill would authorize soft-money contributions up to $60,000 per donor and triple the current hard-money limits to an aggregate of $60,000 per donor during one election cycle. It would impose public disclosure requirements on independent advocacy groups that finance issue advertising in political campaigns.
President Bush announced his own "principles for campaign finance reform" on Thursday in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. This largely repeats his campaign proposal and is close to the Hagel-Landrieu approach.
Mr. Bush calls for updating hard-money donation limits, which he says would strengthen the role of individuals in political campaigns, and for banning corporate and union soft-money contributions, but not those from individuals. He asks for "protecting the rights of citizen groups to engage in issue advocacy."
The president seeks a ban on involuntary political contributions by company shareholders and union members when corporations and unions contribute from their treasuries. He seeks a "paycheck protection" provision to allow union members and shareholders to veto use of their payments for political purposes without their express permission. The proposal is strongly opposed by the unions and congressional Democrats, who fear that union members would tell their leaders no.
Opponents of both bills, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, argue that the soft-money restrictions violate constitutional free-speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment. Mr. McConnell says the McCain-Feingold requirement for advocacy groups to disclose donor lists if they sponsor issue ads also is unconstitutional.
One expected amendment supported by the White House would strike a provision allowing courts to sever any part of McCain-Feingold found to be unconstitutional, if the bill became law, thus allowing the rest of the law to remain in force. Opponents of "severability" say the bill's provisions should stand or fall together in a constitutional ruling on any part.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and main sponsor, says "only the most rabid opponents" of the bill challenge its constitutionality. "I think it's constitutional," said co-sponsor Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat. But lawyers for both the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union have argued that McCain-Feingold violates both the First Amendment and several Supreme Court decisions.
Mr. McConnell has said he does not have the required 61 votes to continue a filibuster to block a vote on McCain-Feingold, but promised a lot of unspecified amendments.
It is not clear how this will play out. "Is this going to be a process to kill the bill with amendments so what's left cannot get a majority, or lead to genuine negotiations and compromise?" asks the Brookings' Mr. Mann. "Compromise is possible that would irritate various reform groups but not harm one [political] party or the other."
Mr. McConnell predicted "fascinating" floor action. "We're going to have two weeks of freewheeling debate," he said on "Meet the Press."
"It's going to be a free-for-all," Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said on "Fox News Sunday." "We don't often legislate like that."
Among the expected amendments this week:
Sens. Robert G. Torricelli and Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democrats, said they would try to "reduce the costs of televised political advertising." The law now requires that candidates receive the "lowest unit rate" during the final weeks before an election.
However, a report by the Alliance for Better Campaign found that political advertisers spent at least $771 million for TV ads in 2000, and that an explosion of issue advocacy ads allowed TV stations "to jack up their ad rates in response to the unprecedented demand for political air time."
Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, is expected to offer a "millionaire candidate" amendment that would allow opponents of wealthy candidates who finance their own campaign to exceed standard contribution limits. The measure would limit the ability of self-financing candidates to repay their own campaign loans with other funds after the election.
The Senate Republican Policy Committee expects several amendments to be offered regarding McCain-Feingold's provision to "codify" the U.S. Supreme Court's 1988 Beck decision "on the rationale that the bill does not codify Beck and does more harm than good."
The Beck decision said unions were forbidden to use dues or fees of nonunion employees governed by a collective bargaining agreement in an agency shop "for any purpose not reasonably necessary for collective bargaining with the employer." Both the AFL-CIO and its traditional rival, the National Right to Work Committee, oppose McCain-Feingold's provision to codify Beck.


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