Senators launch round two on campaign finance reform


Monday, March 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ As senators head into a second week of debate on campaign finance, Sen. John McCain is trying to head off momentum for a rival to his own overhaul plan banning soft money.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday they liked an alternative that limits, but doesn't ban, soft money.

Senators want to reach a compromise on campaign donation regulations by the end of the week. Lott said on CNN's ``Late Edition'' that a proposal ``might have a chance'' only if it increases individual contribution limits.

While saying he doesn't ``underestimate the difficulty'' of navigating his own proposal through the Senate, McCain, R-Ariz., continued to press for a full ban on soft money _ the loosely regulated, unlimited donations that unions, corporations and individuals make to political parties.

The bill cosponsored by McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., does not increase the amount that an individual can contribute to a candidate.

McCain said the rival measure by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., which President Bush's administration has encouraged, does not go far enough. ``I think we can beat it back,'' he said.

``I don't underestimate the difficulty here,'' McCain said on CBS' ``Face The Nation.'' ``We are threatening the system that keeps these people in power. We are threatening incumbency. ... Have no doubt what is at stake here. So you can probably predict more of this kind of hysteria as we come closer to passage.''

Feingold told NBC's ``Meet The Press'' that ``I hate to say it, because we've been disappointed so many times, but ... I think we're going to win this. I wasn't absolutely sure a week ago, but I'm feeling better now.''

Hagel's plan would restrict soft money donations and raise the limits on donations that individuals make directly to candidates. Hagel told NBC's ``Meet The Press'' that his plan is a constitutional one, ``but more importantly, one that will get the signature of the president.''

After a fairly genial first week of debate, senators signaled that the second week could be more difficult.

``The real story is going to be this week,'' McConnell, R-Ky., said on ABC's ``This Week,'' adding on CNN that Hagel's bill would address any ``appearance of corruption that concerns people.''

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., countered that the Senate should do better.

``Today we're talking about millions and millions of dollars being spent on politics in this country, and people are getting sick of it,'' Dodd told CNN. ``And we need to do something to put the brakes on to slow this down.''

McConnell replied: ``We are spending as much on politics as we did on potato chips last year. We are not spending excessive amounts of money on politics.''

Federal Election Commission records show Republicans raised about $244 million and Democrats $243 million in soft money during the past two years. Hagel's plan would allow $60,000 in soft money donations from individuals, unions and corporations to national political parties.

Lott said the ``self-indulgent'' debate on political spending was consuming two weeks ``at a time when the economy is a little shaky ... and we got energy problems and we continue to worry about education in America.''

Meantime, McCain said on CBS that he had ``a cordial relationship'' with Bush and did not expect the president, whom he challenged in the GOP primaries last year, to veto a campaign finance bill.

``There is always going to be bad blood when there is a tough campaign, but there certainly isn't between me and the president ... People put their heart and soul into a campaign; obviously, it takes some time to get over,'' said McCain.

Bush also denied any feud with McCain. ``We're friends,' he told reporters. ``We don't agree 100 percent of the time, but we're going to agree a lot of the time.''