Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Change aids opponents of rich

Funding could exceed limits on campaigns

By Derrick DePledge, Enquirer Washington Bureau
and Jon Frandsen, Gannett News Service

        WASHINGTON — The Senate agreed Tuesday that political candidates chasing wealthy, self-financed opponents should be able to receive campaign contributions that exceed existing federal limits.

        The amendment, the first added to a campaign-finance reform bill under review by the Senate, is an acknowledgement that the wealthy have a distinct advantage in political finance. The Supreme Court has ruled that candidates have a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money on their own campaigns.

        “A person with a huge amount of money can come into a campaign and drown out the opposition,” said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who drafted the amendment with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

        Several candidates over the past few years have spent millions on their own campaigns with varied success. Both major political parties look for wealthy prospects when recruiting potential candidates so the parties can spend money elsewhere.

        The record was set last year by Jon Corzine, a former executive at the Goldman Sachs investment firm who spent more than $60 million on his successful Senate campaign in New Jersey. Mr. Corzine voted for the amendment, which passed Tuesday by a 70-30 vote.

        Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., the main sponsors of the reform package, voted for the amendment in an effort to hold together a fragile majority for the overall bill.

        The McCain-Feingold legislation would ban “soft money” donations that political parties use for party-building activities and set new limits on so-called “issue advertising” by individuals or interest groups. Senate leaders have scheduled two weeks of debate to hear amendments and alternatives to the bill.

        Opponents of the McCain-Feingold bill continued to coalesce behind an alternative by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that would limit soft money donations to $120,000 per election cycle and increase the federal campaign contribution limits to candidates.

        Under the amendment approved Tuesday, a spending formula would be established based on the voting-age population of each state, since the costs of political campaigns often differ between large and small states.

        In Ohio, for example, candidates would be able to accept three times the $1,000 individual contribution limit if their opponents planned to spend more than $974,640 of their own money on a campaign.

        Candidates could receive six times the contribution limit if their opponents spend $1.9 million of their own money, and candidates could get equal help from political parties if their opponents spend $4.8 million of their own money on the race.

Repayments restricted

        The amendment would also prevent candidates who lend money to their campaign from recovering more than $250,000 through fund-raisers after being elected.

        Mr. DeWine patterned the amendment after an Ohio law that lifts state contribution limits when statewide candidates intend to spend more than $100,000 of their own money in a primary or $150,000 in a general election.

        “The idea is not to shrink the megaphone of the millionaire,” Mr. DeWine said, “it is to enhance the megaphone of the nonmillionaire.”

        Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio; Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Jim Bunning, R-Ky.; and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., voted for the amendment.

        Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., voted against it.


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