U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) has criticized a proposed overhaul of the nation's campaign finance system, saying the bipartisan effort to ban unregulated "soft money" contributions would "tilt the electoral balance" in favor of Democrats.

Davis, who last year bucked his party's leadership to help force a floor vote for such a limit, has argued in his new role as chairman of the House Republican campaign committee that to apply such a restriction would eliminate a $40 million GOP advantage.

According to GOP sources, Davis and Republican Party Chairman Jim Nicholson delivered a presentation to Republican members of Congress last month in which both appealed to members' self-interest to oppose the legislation debated yesterday on the House floor.

"During the 1988 election cycle, soft money helped fund over 32 million phone bank calls, over 27 million [voter turnout] mail pieces, over 18 million absentee ballots and over 4.5 million issue and [voter turnout] calls" for Republicans, reads the material that was included in the two men's slide presentation at the meeting.

Unregulated contributions also permitted Republicans to transfer $34.3 million to state parties and $5.8 million in direct contributions to state and local candidates, Davis and Nicholson said in their presentation, adding, "Democrats know that eliminating soft money will give them an electoral advantage."

The meeting underscored Davis's more vocal stance on the politically delicatesubject of campaign finance reform since he was elected National Republican Congressional Committee chairman in November, responsible for holding the GOP majority in 2000. In 1998, Republicans raised $132 million in soft money, compared with $93 million for the Democrats.

Yesterday, Davis said that he has consistently voted during his three terms inoffice to tighten federal campaign finance rules, and he voted last night for an unsuccessful alternative to legislation sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.).

Davis said that he signed a petition last year to force a floor debate on anearlier Shays-Meehan attempt to curb the flow of unregulated cash to political parties because "the House ought to be able to work its will on this," although he later voted against the bill.

Last night, Davis voted, as he did last year, to ban soft money to federal parties but not to state parties. Campaign finance supporters say that reining in unlimited giving by interest groups is crucial to any overhaul, and that excepting states would make them a conduit for such gifts.

Asked yesterday about his defense of soft money, Davis said, "For demonizing soft money, the Democrats are pretty good at taking it.

"They want a bill that will tilt the electoral balance in favor of their base constituents--trial lawyers, labor unions--and cut our ability to raise money from our base groups."

He said he would support changes that would promote greater disclosure and adjust for inflation the limits on giving by individuals.