- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

The Senate overwhelmingly agreed yesterday to double campaign contribution limits for individuals and to sharply increase amounts that may be given to federal candidates by state and national political parties.

The two measures were contained in an amendment to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

The amendment, which passed 84-16, also increased total allowable individual contributions to federal candidates and party committees from $50,000 to $75,000 in a two-year election cycle.

Proponents of campaign finance reform said they hoped increases in candidate fund-raising limits would help pass the bill.

But they warned that serious danger still faced the bill on the issue of "non-severability," which states that an entire law is voided if the courts reject any portion of it.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi called the non-severability provision "a non-negotiable item," saying he could "guarantee [the bill] won't get to the president without that in there."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush wants the issue addressed in the legislation because the Supreme Court struck down a major portion of Congress' previous campaign reform statute in the 1970s, "leaving unintended consequences" that lawmakers must now clean up because of severability.

"What people on the Hill need to hear from this president is this year campaign finance reform involves real bullets," Mr. Fleischer said at his daily press briefing. "It very well may happen, and he wants to be able to sign campaign finance reform. In the past, people had free votes. They knew that they could posture on campaign finance reform because it didn't matter."

The conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation announced yesterday afternoon that it will file suit challenging the bill if it becomes law.

The Senate has been debating and amending the bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat for the past eight days.

With yesterday's vote, the Senate agreed to increase limits on individual contributions to a single candidate for each two-year election cycle from $2,000 to $4,000.

Limits on state and local political party donations to candidates were boosted from $10,000 to $20,000. Allowable national party donations to candidates were raised from $40,000 to $50,000 every two years.

The move came on the heels of a total ban on unrestricted "soft money" donations to political parties by wealthy individuals, corporations, and unions, which the Senate voted to include in the McCain-Feingold bill on Tuesday.

But Mr. McConnell may spring one last parliamentary maneuver in his efforts to sink the bill

The Kentucky Republican has not yet agreed to set a time for a final vote, raising the threat that he or others might mount a late filibuster against the measure.

He quietly served notice last week that he might propose a rules change to extend the Senate's ethics guidelines to senators-elect. The addition of any such rules change would force the bill's supporters to get a two-thirds majority to sink a filibuster, more than the customary 60 votes.

A spokesman said last night that Mr. McConnell has no plans "at the present time" to seek a vote on the rules proposal.

In yesterday's maneuverings, both Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, had offered separate amendments to raise hard money limits by different amounts.

Democrats had threatened to vote against McCain-Feingold if the Thompson amendment passed, but when Mrs. Feinstein offered her own amendment, it set off two hours of behind-the-scenes negotiations that resulted in the final compromise.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle warned against raising the limits before negotiations on a compromise began.

"We're giving a smaller and smaller percentage of people greater and greater power every time we increase those hard limits," the South Dakota Democrat said.

"One-ninth of 1 percent of all the people in this country contribute more than a thousand dollars. A half of 1 percent of the people contribute $200 or more. Why we would want to put more power in the hands of fewer people I don't understand, but that's what this debate is about," Mr. Daschle said.

He said the move to increase contribution limits "disadvantages Democrats substantially," but he ended up voting for it anyway.

"I support this compromise reluctantly because it is necessary to keep us moving forward," Mr. Daschle said. "The real victory here is that the reform coalition has passed another critical test, and we are now within reach of a bill that can pass the Senate."

Mr. Lott supported higher contribution increases in the Thompson amendment.

"I feel very strongly these limits need to be raised," he said before the votes. "They haven't been modified in over 25 years. It's part of the fund-raising chase that senators and congressman have to wrestle with."

Mr. Thompson said higher increases were warranted.

"It's not enough to consider soft money and leave hard money limits unrealistically low," he said, adding that, due to inflation, "we're actually giving candidates less purchasing power than we did in 1974."

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