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Election Probe Looks at L.A. Businessman (Sept. 12)
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For Democrats, a Campaign for Finance Reform

By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 1997; Page A14

All 45 Senate Democrats pledged yesterday to vote for the campaign finance overhaul bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) in a move aimed at cranking up pressure on Republicans to support the measure.

But Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the bill's principal foe, said the move only served to "prove this is a Democratic bill" and underscored "why it will not pass in this Republican Congress."

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the Democrats said the bill presents "an historic opportunity for comprehensive reform" and urged Lott to schedule a vote before Congress adjourns later this fall.

Lott has said he wants the Senate to see the results of current committee hearings into fund-raising abuses during the 1996 campaign before it acts on any legislation to change the rules. "We need to find out what went wrong in 1996 before we start rewriting the law," Lott spokesman Susan Irby said yesterday. She added that Lott has not ruled out action on the issue "at some point."

With three Republicans (McCain, Susan Collins of Maine and Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee) already co-sponsoring the legislation, the bill is two votes short of being enough for a tie that could be broken in the bill's favor by Vice President Gore.

"There should be no confusion about the prospects for enactment of the McCain-Feingold bill," the Democrats told Lott. "Your willingness to schedule [it] for an up-or-down vote, coupled with the support of only two additional Republican senators, could break ten years of gridlock on this matter."

But the bill is also 12 votes short of the 60 that could be needed in case of a filibuster, and McConnell made it clear yesterday he is prepared to "use any procedure available in the Senate" to kill the bill.

"I'm perfectly confident that it will not pass," McConnell said at a news conference called to respond to the Democrats' letter.

Feingold remained optimistic, however, saying he believes there are nine or 10 additional Republicans who may be willing to vote to cut off a filibuster on the issue, which would put the measure within striking distance of a stall-proof majority.

McCain is still negotiating with Lott in hopes he may schedule a vote on the bill, which would ban soft money, provide incentives such as free television time for candidates who abide by voluntary spending limits and restrict giving by political action committees. If Lott refuses to do so, McCain and Feingold have said they will start trying to add key provisions to other bills, hoping it will be hard for senators to vote against especially popular provisions.

McCain said yesterday he was concerned that the Democrats, by declaring support for "comprehensive" reform, might be providing themselves with a "convenient out to say it's McCain-Feingold or nothing else." An aide to Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) dismissed the suggestion, saying that while Daschle prefers comprehensive reform he would "support something short of it" if that was the only alternative.

McCain said he did not believe the Democrats, as McConnell later charged, had fatally politicized the vote. Lott and other Republicans "recognize this is part of the posturing that goes on" in the Senate. The net effect of the Democrats' letter, he said, is "negligible."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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