Senate votes on campaign reform |

Senate votes on campaign reform


WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate voted Tuesday to ease campaign funding restrictions on candidates battling wealthy, self-financing rivals, overriding objections that the move would run afoul of the Constitution and undermine an effort to reduce the role of money in politics.

Sen. John McCain said limits would be raised for all candidates before debate on campaign finance legislation was through. ”The only question is how much,” he said.

Supporters of the amendment relating to millionaires said it was necessary to equalize an advantage that flows to any candidate able to use a personal fortune to finance a campaign. Four Democrats did so last year – Sens. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Mark Dayton of Minnesota and Maria Cantwell of Washington, all first-termers; and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who was re-elected. Kohl and Corzine supported the amendment; Dayton and Cantwell opposed it.

The vote on the provision was 70-30 and came as lawmakers plowed ahead with a two-week debate that laid bare stark philosophical differences at the core of the issue.

”Both parties are enslaved to those who give” campaign funds, said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat first elected to Congress nearly a half-century ago. ”We’re beholden to the special interests when we go around the country holding out a tin cup saying, ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme.”’

A few hours later, Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, said the bill would infringe on the First Amendment. ”It has to do with freedom of speech. It does not have to do with getting money out of politics, because the reality is in the big picture: We never have had money out of politics, … and we never will,” Bennett said.

The legislation would ban ”soft money,” loosely regulated, unlimited donations that unions, corporations and individuals make to political parties. It also would restrict certain types of political advertising broadcast within 60 days of an election or 30 days of a primary.

Together, the Republican and Democratic parties collected more than $480 million in soft money in the last two-year election cycle. At the same time, candidates of both parties were unsettled by attack ads financed by outside groups, commercials that escaped disclosure because they did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of an individual politician.

The millionaires amendment was advanced originally by Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., and while McCain and Feingold helped kill an earlier version Monday night, it was refined in overnight negotiations to the point that they deemed it acceptable.

Other supporters of their campaign finance bill expressed unhappiness, though, and members of the Democratic leadership said that if there were many more changes like it, support for the bill itself could start to unravel.

”I think it’s beginning to change in its character, and with each change I think you lessen the opportunity for us to keep Democrats together and in support of a bill that they no longer can identify as McCain-Feingold,” said the Democratic leader, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

In the case of candidates running against self-financing rivals, the amendment that passed would increase the size of allowable donations on a sliding scale based on a state’s population. The current $1,000 contribution limit could eventually rise to $6,000, and political parties would be allowed to offer greater assistance than is now the case.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said the provision was necessary because it would rectify a ”a ludicrous situation. Everybody is limited to $1,000 (in donations) except one person, the candidate. To most people this would seem to be an absurd situation,” he said.

Daschle said the provision is unconstitutional because ”it treats different candidates in different states differently.”

Beyond that, he said, it ”violates the real spirit” of the legislation.

And Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said it amounted to ”incumbency protection,” since for the most part it would allow incumbents to raise more money to fend off wealthy challengers.

The debate offered a window into the complex maneuvering behind the legislation. Supporters of the amendment said they nevertheless feared that additional changes that drew widespread support could eventually cause their coalition to crack.

And comments by Daschle and Senate Democratic whip Harry Reid of Nevada, who said opponents were playing a ”shell game,” reinforced nervousness among Republican supporters of the soft money ban that Democrats eventually would find a way to ensure its defeat.

While supporters of the bill labored to hold their coalition together on the floor, McCain met privately during the day with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Organized labor has objected to the bill’s provision that restricts late-campaign advertising.

On the Net: McCain-Feingold bill Web page:

Links to senators:

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