Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has led successful Republican efforts to block campaign finance legislation, said yesterday he intends to hold hearings next spring on a new proposal that would increase individual campaign contribution limits and restrict--but not ban--unregulated donations to political parties.
The move was welcomed by Democrats, who described it as an indication that pressure for reform was growing but said the proposal itself does not go far enough, according to aides.
Speaking for himself and Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Ky.), McConnell, who heads the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said he intends to use the new proposal as the basis for legislation to be drafted by the committee.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and several other senators of both parties, stops short of more far-reaching legislation approved by the House, which would ban unlimited "soft money" donations to parties and impose new restrictions on issue ads that are used to promote candidates. The Senate last month rejected both the House bill and a narrower proposal to ban soft money contributions to parties.
The Hagel proposal, co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Bob Kerrey (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) as well as several Republicans, would cap soft money contributions to parties at $60,000 a year and raise the limit for individual contributions to candidates from $1,000 to $3,000. It would also strengthen disclosure requirements for contributions and broadcast advertisements.
An increase in individual "hard money" limits has long been a goal of many Republicans, and McConnell described the proposal to cap rather than ban soft money as a "responsible middle ground."
But McConnell said he was not endorsing the Hagel initiative and contended that restrictions on use of union dues for political purposes were "conspicuously absent." He said "such shortcomings and possible modifications" would be considered by the rules panel as it deals with the legislation.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, commended McConnell and said his announcement "signifies that opponents realize they can't keep their finger in the dike forever and that, sooner or later, we will enact campaign finance reform."