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Campaign Finance Resurfacing in Senate (Washington Post, Feb. 20)

Sen. Lott Tries to Block Action on Campaign Finance Reform

By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 1998; Page A04

A narrow Senate majority yesterday signaled support for proposed legislation to overhaul campaign finance laws, prompting a maneuver by Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) that could block further action on the measure.

"Here we go again," said Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), noting that Lott had used a similar maneuver to block the bill last year and complaining that Democrats had been led to believe he would not do so again this year. "What are we afraid of?" he asked angrily.

By a vote of 51 to 48, the Senate rejected an attempt by Lott and other Republican leaders to table, or kill, a bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) to tighten campaign funding rules by banning "soft money" contributions and curbing other sources of special-interest influence on elections.

The vote followed a full-court press by the bill's backers, who argued at a news conference that the nation's campaign finance system is little more than an open invitation to scandal. "We don't have a campaign finance system anymore. . . . The loopholes are bigger than the law," said Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), chairman of the committee that investigated funding abuses from the 1996 campaign.

While the vote gave the McCain-Feingold forces an early boost and the right to claim majority support in the Senate, it brought them no closer to the 60 votes that are needed to break a Republican-led filibuster against the legislation. The issue will be resolved by 60 votes, not 51, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the bill's leading foe, told the Senate.

By the end of the day's maneuvering, the McCain-Feingold bill appeared to have no more than 52 votes to end the filibuster (Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a supporter of the bill, was absent yesterday). That was the same number of supporters mustered late last year, when the measure died in a filibuster. This includes all 45 Democrats and seven Republicans.

The bill's sponsors are hoping to add to that number if they can include a compromise on the contentious issues of union spending and attack ads by outside groups. The compromise is sponsored by Republican Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and James M. Jeffords (Vt.), and was endorsed yesterday by President Clinton and Senate Democrats.

Shortly after Snowe introduced the proposal, Lott used a complicated maneuver under which the Senate might not be able to vote on the Snowe-Jeffords proposal, at least not until it considers a controversial Lott proposal to bar the Federal Communications Commission from requiring broadcasters to give candidates free air time.

As outlined by Snowe and Jeffords, the proposal would bar unions and corporations from using funds for ads targeting specific candidates within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary. Other groups could continue to run such ads so long as they disclose contributors.

The initiative is designed in part as an alternative to a Lott proposal that would require unions to seek written approval of members before using their dues money for political purposes. It has been labeled a "killer amendment" by Democrats, who argue that it is aimed at drying up their labor financing. The Snowe-Jeffords proposal would also supplant more restrictive, and some say more constitutionally vulnerable, attack ad provisions in the McCain-Feingold bill. Democrats were clearly not enthusiastic about the Snowe-Jeffords proposal, but backed it as a way of building support for the bill itself.

Votes on breaking the filibuster are scheduled for Thursday, and Lott indicated yesterday that he is not inclined to continue debate beyond that point.

Republicans voting to keep the bill alive yesterday were McCain, Thompson, Snowe, Jeffords, Susan Collins (Maine), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and John H. Chafee (R.I.).

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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