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Breaux to vote against McCain-Feingold bill

Sen. John Breaux
Sen. John Breaux  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, became the first Democratic senator Tuesday to say he would vote against the so-called McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

"If it was up for a vote in its current form, I would vote against it," said Breaux.

The McCain-Feingold reform legislation, which would ban unregulated money to political parties and restrict advertisements from outside groups, has garnered rhetorical support from most Democratic lawmakers in recent years.

Senate Democrats have unanimously supported procedural votes in recent years, but next week marks the first time in nearly a decade senators will have a lengthy debate and vote on the issue and many are voicing their concern.

Though Breaux is the sole Democrat publicly opposing the legislation, he and other Democrats say after reading the language more carefully they believe banning so-called "soft money" would put Democrats at a disadvantage.

"Many of us have concluded that it creates a very unlevel playing field between the two parties and I don't think that's what we should be for," said Breaux.

Democrats and Republicans raised virtually the same amount of unregulated money in the last election cycle, but Republicans had a 2 to 1 advantage in $1000 direct contributions to candidates.

"A lot of people raised concerns," said one Democratic senator. "The only one who spoke out in support of McCain Feingold was Russ Feingold," the Democratic co-sponsor of the legislation.

Since most Republicans oppose reform, Democratic support is essential to passing any legislation.

Breaux and other Democrats also question the constitutionality of banning not just soft money but limiting third party advertising.

"Clearly this test the limits of constitutionality under First Amendment laws," said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey, "I think it's very difficult to legally and constitutionally to say to third party groups that they can't spend their money the way they want to."

Republicans, most of whom have long opposed banning soft money as an unconstitutional restriction of free speech, are reveling in what they see as Democratic backpedaling

"I think there are a whole lot of Democrats who never had any idea what was in this bill, at least this year they are reading it," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, a chief foe of reform.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the lead sponsor of the reform bill, says he is not concerned with wavering support among Democrats, because there will be plenty of room for amendments to assuage those concerned.

In the two week debate alloted for this issue, there is no restriction on the number or kind of amendments. McCain, Feingold and other advocates say they "do not think this is a perfect bill," and are willing to entertain amendments changing it.

One likely amendment McCain and Feingold do not support but many Republicans back as a substitute for reform is legislation proposed by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, which would limit, but not ban, unregulated campaign contributions and increase direct contributions from $1,000 to $3,000 per year.

Breaux is a co-sponsor of the Hagel bill.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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