Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Tristate's senators split on reform issues

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has fought campaign finance limits for the past decade, opened an extraordinary Senate debate on the subject Monday with some humor.

        The Kentucky Republican joked that it would be easier to predict the winner of the NCAA basketball tournament than to figure out the shape of reform.

        The debate is over legislation by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., that would, among other provisions, ban what is known as “soft money” — unlimited donations from individuals, corporations and labor unions to political parties for party-building activities.

        One Tristate senator, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., has endorsed the McCain-Feingold bill. The other lawmakers will wait until the legislation takes form before making up their minds.

        Ohio Republican Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine are co-sponsors of the main alternative to McCain-Feingold, a bill by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that would, among other things, set a $120,000 cap on soft money contributions during an election cycle. President Bush has indicated he favors legislation closer to Mr. Hagel's.

        Mr. Voinovich, in an outline released Monday, said he would prefer legislation that limits soft money, increases individual contribution limits to candidates and strengthens public disclosure of the sources of political donations. He also backed a “nonseverability” clause, strongly opposed by Mr. McCain, that would invalidate the entire reform bill if a court ruled one aspect was unconstitutional.

        Mr. DeWine, meanwhile, was working on an amendment with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., that would allow candidates running against wealthy, self-financed opponents to accept donations beyond federal contribution limits. They also want to prevent candidates who spend more than $250,000 of their own money during a campaign from using fund-raisers after an election to recoup the money.


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