- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

Sens. John McCain and Russell D. Feingold both say they could accept raising the current $1,000 cap on individual "hard money" political contributions a move Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says would be necessary if campaign finance reform is to pass Congress.
Interviewed yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition," Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, said increasing the $1,000 limit on individual contributions to candidates is "critical."
"If we can do that to a level that's acceptable, then it might have a chance," he said.
Mr. Lott also said he "could support" a measure proposed by Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, that would impose a $60,000 cap on "soft money" contributions.
"Soft money" is unrestricted money given by unions, corporations and individuals to political parties rather than to specific candidates.
The Hagel plan also would raise the $1,000 limit for individual "hard money" donations or those given to specific candidates to $3,000 per election.
Mr. Hagel's plan would be an alternative to the crux of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which would ban all soft money. The Senate begins the second week of debate on the McCain-Feingold bill today.
"The real story is going to be this week," when the Senate considers the Hagel amendment, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and the Senate's most vocal opponent of McCain-Feingold, said on ABC's "This Week."
Mr. McConnell added that he intends to vote for the Hagel amendment with its $60,000 cap on soft money, since he's convinced the McCain-Feingold bill is unconstitutional.
In response to critics who say there is too much money in the political process, Mr. McConnell said on CNN that the Hagel amendment would address any "appearance of corruption that concerns people."
In this week's issue of Time magazine, which reaches newsstands today, Mr. Hagel says he will offer his alternative if no deal on campaign finance reform emerges.
Asked yesterday if he believes the Hagel language will pass, Mr. McConnell, chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, said: "I don't know. We'll find out, probably Tuesday."
Last week, Sen. Don Nickles, assistant majority leader and the Senate's second-in-command, surprised many Republican colleagues when he announced he could accept a ban on soft money if the current $1,000 ceiling on individual hard money contributions was raised.
Supporters of such a change argue that the cap has been in place since 1974.
On CNN, Mr. McConnell contended that the long failure to allow larger hard money donations "is responsible for the advance in soft money." When Mr. McConnell insisted such an increase would "just be an inflation adjustment," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, countered: "The idea of having an inflation adjustment for the wealthiest Americans, who can write a $1,000 check, is ludicrous … absurd."
However, Mr. McCain said that "We do need to increase the hard money" limit because of inflation, when asked on ABC's "This Week" if he could support a higher ceiling.
On CBS' "Face the Nation," the Arizona Republican said he believes amajority in the Senate is "amenable" to such an adjustment.
But the Republican maverick said he recognizes "very delicate negotiations have to go on" before making such a change, so as not to turn off Democrats who now support his bill.
Neither he nor Mr. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who also appeared on Sunday news talk shows, could be pinned down as to how much of an increase in the limit on hard money they would accept.
However, Mr. Feingold, interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press," said, "I think $3,000 would be excessive." When pressed, he also said even a $2,000 cap in hard money contributions would be "pretty high."
"If we go hog wild and start increasing those individual limits and the aggregate limits that people can give, you could end up creating a sort of soft money system within the hard money system," Mr. Feingold said.
He added: "My preference is to stay at the current system [limit], but I accept that a majority of the Senate is going to ask for some increase in the system."
Mr. Feingold and Mr. McCain were both cautiously optimistic that their bill will pass, possibly by week's end. But comments by Mr. McCain on CBS indicated he's expecting some fierce battles ahead.
"We've got some tough issues coming up … I think the tough votes will be coming up on Tuesday or Wednesday," he said.
He identified the issue of "severability" as one of the toughest. It refers to efforts by some opponents of the McCain-Feingold bill to add an amendment rendering the entire measure unconstitutional if any one part is declared unconstitutional.
If McCain-Feingold does pass the Senate, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay pledged yesterday he'll do everything possible to try to kill it in the House.
"I see McCain-Feingold's bill as stepping all over the Bill of Rights, all over our freedom of speech, all over our freedom of association. It is not reform, it's incumbent protection … I'll do everything I can to protect the freedom of the American people. I'll work as hard as I can to beat this," the Texas Republican said on "Meet the Press."
Reminded that a version of McCain-Feingold previously passed the House 252-177, Mr. DeLay the House's third-in-command was asked if he really expects to block the bill this time. "I don't know. Times are different things could change," he said.
Mr. Lott also said that the "self-indulgent" debate on political spending was consuming two weeks of the Senate's agenda "at a time when the economy is a little shaky … and we got energy problems and we continue to worry about education in America."
President Bush has said he wants to sign a campaign finance reform bill. The president said Friday he's confident he'll be sent one he can sign.
Mr. Hagel, interviewed yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," said his plan passes constitutional muster. "But more importantly, [it's one] that will get the signature of the president," he said.


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