Tuesday, April 03, 2001

Senate OKs campaign fund rules

Limits include soft-money ban

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — The Senate agreed Monday to ban unlimited financial contributions to political parties and prevent corporations, labor unions and interest groups from helping or attacking candidates on television right before elections.

        The legislation would increase the amount of money people can contribute directly to candidates or political parties for campaigns.

        But it would bar what is known as “soft money,” the large donations that parties use for get-out-the-vote drives and other promotional activities that indirectly benefit candidates.

        Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who sponsored the bill with Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said the Senate gave voice to people who “believe that reforming the way we finance federal election campaigns is a necessary first step to reforming the practices and institutions of our great democracy.”

        The House of Representatives has twice approved similar versions of the legislation, but influential lawmakers from both parties have reservations about aspects of the Senate's work.

        President Bush has opposed a soft-money ban and other key elements, yet has left open the possibility he would sign some version of campaign-finance reform into law.

"Brave new world'

               Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had successfully fought tougher restraints for years, said he would likely join allies who will challenge the new rules in federal court if they clear Congress.

        “Welcome to the brave new world, where the voices of parties are quieted, the voices of billionaires are enhanced, the voices of newspapers are enhanced, and the one entity out there in America — the core of the two-party system — influence is dramatically reduced,” he said.

Only 2 Tristate supporters

               The 59-41 Senate vote reflected a chamber that wanted to show a suspicious public that it could restrain political fund raising. Only two of the Tristate's six senators — Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind. — voted for the bill, however.

        “We simply cannot take a sledgehammer to our First Amendment and shatter it,” said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. “We cannot stifle the rights of the people to criticize us and our government. That is their right. That is the foundation of our democracy.”

        Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said the bill is “bad for democracy.”

        During two weeks of robust debate, lawmakers added several amendments to a bill that could have the most profound changes on the political system since Watergate-era reforms in 1974.

        • Individual contribution limits to candidates would increase from $1,000 to $2,000 per election, donation limits to state political parties would increase from $5,000 to $10,000 year, and contribution limits to national political parties would climb from $20,000 to $25,000 a year. A donor could give $75,000 over a two-year election cycle, and most of the limits would be indexed to inflation.

        • Direct contribution limits for political parties to candidates would increase from $17,500 to $35,000 a year.

        • Interest groups, like anti-abortion, gun control and environmental organizations, would be barred from advertising against candidates 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.

        Two of the nation's largest soft-money donors, Carl Lindner Jr. of American Financial Group Inc., and Richard T. Farmer, of Cintas Corp., are from the Tristate.


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