- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2001

The Senate yesterday rejected a campaign finance measure that would have limited "soft money" donations to political parties, as Republican leaders turned to their final strategy to defeat an outright ban on such contributions.

The vote to defeat the compromise offered by Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was 60-40, with twelve Republicans joining all but two Democrats. Mr. Hagel's provision would have capped such donations to parties at $60,000 per donor per year.

The vote was a strategic victory for McCain-Feingold because it kept the issue alive in the Senate. "This was the vote that got rid of soft money," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold. He is sponsoring with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, the main campaign finance bill, which bans soft money outright.

Mr. Hagel's proposal to cap soft money donations was viewed by some opponents as the best hope to beat McCain-Feingold.

But even Mr. McCain acknowledged that other hurdles to his bill lie ahead, and one of them will come today when Republicans introduce a measure that increases the likelihood of McCain-Feingold being thrown out in court.

The Senate also rejected, by 52-47, a proposal by Mr. Hagel to increase the amount that individuals can donate to a candidate from $1,000 to $3,000.

But senators last night were considering other efforts to raise the limits on such "hard money," and some sort of increase appeared likely.

Hints also came from the White House yesterday that a ban on soft money would not necessarily draw a veto from President Bush.

A Bush adviser told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the White House is letting lawmakers know the president would be willing to sign a ban on soft money despite his contrary stance in last year's presidential primary contest with Mr. McCain.

Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, is expected to introduce a provision called "non-severability," which simply states that an entire law is voided if the court rejects any part of it.

Republicans also will write this clause so that it ties the ban on soft money to one or more features in the bill they consider unconstitutional for example, a measure requiring disclosure of donors for certain political ads in the final 60 days of a campaign, and another approved Monday night to restrict advocacy groups like the Sierra Club from running political ads.

"This bill, if it ever becomes law, is going to end up in court, and you're looking at the plaintiff," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "I wanted to load this thing up as much as I could with stuff that I thought we could win in court on."

Asked why Democrats such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York voted Monday for a provision that many believe unconstitutional, Mr. McConnell replied, "Beats me, but I'm glad she did."

Said Mr. McCain yesterday, "It all rests on the issue of severability. I'm worried about the Democrats on severability. We have a whole lot of Democrats who have expressed uncertainty" on it.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said he is working to "persuade every member of my caucus" to reject the all-or-nothing approach to the bill. But some Democrats, such as Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, said yesterday they hadn't made up their minds about the issue yet.

Even if the severability provision loses this week, Republican leaders vowed to use a House-Senate conference committee to include it in any campaign finance bill that is sent to the president.

"That is a non-negotiable item," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. "It may not happen out here [on the Senate floor], but I can guarantee it won't get to the president without that in there. That can be done, you know, in the Senate, in the House, in conference.

"If [Mr. McCain] wants a bill signed by the president to get through the process, non-severability is going to have to be there," Mr. Lott said. "The last three times we did pass a campaign finance reform bill out of the Senate, it had the non-severability provision in it."

The Senate also has yet to decide whether to increase "hard money" limits contributions made to a candidate. Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican and a supporter of McCain-Feingold, has proposed raising the individual contribution limits to $2,500; an alternative proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, would increase individual donor limits to $2,000 per election.

Mr. Daschle yesterday softened his position, saying he would accept an increase from $1,000 to $2,000 for individuals. Republicans outraised Democrats in hard money in the last election cycle, $447.4 million to $269.9 million.

Yesterday's vote against capping "soft money" donations showed there will be no soft money allowed in any bill that is approved, Mr. McConnell said.

"And what that means as a practical matter is a 40 percent loss of the budget at the [Republican National Committee] and the [Democratic National Committee], 35 percent at the two senatorial committees, and a dramatic transfer of speaking power influence to outside groups, who will in the end not be impeded by this bill at all," Mr. McConnell said.

The only Democrats voting in favor of Mr. Hagel's proposed cap on soft money were Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Mr. Breaux called the measure "a legitimate compromise." He disputed Mr. McCain's argument that limiting such donations legitimizes them.

"Nonsense," Mr. Breaux said. "What it does do is restrict it for the first time."

But most Democrats sided with Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who said the public believes campaign financing is corrupt.

"Too many people in this country believe that if you pay, you play," Mr. Wellstone said.

The Republican opposition to a cap on soft money included the usual group of Republican centrists but also some surprises, such as Sens. Peter G. Fitzgerald of Illinois and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana. Mr. Fitzgerald did vote to increase hard-money limits.

"I don't think there would be a need for soft money if the hard-money limits are increased," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

The cap on funds from unions, corporations and individuals was preferred by Mr. Bush.

The other Republicans who voted against it were Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, John Ensign of Nevada, James M. Jeffords of Vermont, Mr. McCain, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Ted Stevens of Alaska and Mr. Thompson.

As the two-week-long debate headed for a final vote tomorrow, Mr. McConnell said he had not ruled out a filibuster, adding that senators had not agreed on rules for ending the debate. Other Republicans discounted the notion.

"I haven't ruled anything in or out," Mr. McConnell said. "We didn't structure how you end. The endgame is yet to be determined."

Also yesterday, on a 70-30 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to provide partial public financing for Senate candidates who abide by voluntary spending limits.


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