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McConnell: Campaign finance fight 'not over'

Sen. McConnell hopes President Bush will not sign the McCain-Feingold bill if it reaches the White House  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Though the Senate fight regarding big money in politics should end today, the battle continues for the two high-power protagonists.

"It's not over yet," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. "It's over in the Senate, but this is a bill that's fraught with all kinds of constitutional problems and if it becomes law, I'm taking it to court."

Sen. John McCain, who has long championed campaign finance reform, vows to fight that battle when it comes, but first things first: after today's expected vote in the Senate he's focused on the upcoming fight in the House of Representatives.

"It's been through the House twice by overwhelming majority, so I think we can do it," said McCain, an Arizona Republican. "I do not underestimate that the closer we get to passage the greater the opposition will be," he said. "But it's still a long way from us having a bill on the president's desk."

Campaign finance reform
Status and summary of the McCain-Feingold reforms
Hagel's bill status and summary (from Thomas)

For the two men, the battle continues because it has become a personal crusade. McConnell says he's just trying to protect the First Amendment.

McCain says he's trying restore public trust in politics.

The last time they faced of in the Senate, it got personal, with McCain standing to read aloud the Webster's definition of corruption.

That rankled McConnell. "I take offense to what the senator from Arizona said," was his reply.

That was nearly two years ago, when McConnell used Senate rules to keep McCain's bill from coming up for a vote.

But then McCain took his crusade to the presidential campaign trail, portraying himself as a Luke Skywalker-type character battling the forces of evil.

He lost the presidency, but gained stature and power to push his legislation through the Senate. And when the debate hit the Senate floor this time, McConnell jokingly called himself Darth Vader, the "Star Wars" villain. ~ And this time it didn't get personal; in fact, McConnell says he's never gotten along so well with his adversary.

"We had not been on good terms for years, and I think it was largely because of this issue. We actually had a good working relationship during the course of the debate. He didn't surprise me and I didn't surprise him; it went well."

Sen. John McCain  

In its current form, the bill boosts the cap on hard money donations to federal candidates, while eliminating soft-money donations, those unlimited funds that go to political parties. The bill would also restrict advertising 60 days before an election by unions and corporations.

And though McCain said he is "guardedly optimistic" that the legislation will clear the House, others seem less certain.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, predicted the measure would pass the House by a slim margin, but said Republicans would "put a poison pill" in the legislation when it goes to a conference committee. "And it will never reach the president's desk," Rangel told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. "

Republicans, meanwhile, left open the possibility that McCain would not even be named to any conference committee that considers his legislation.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, said McCain didn't sit on the Rules Committee, which had jurisdiction over the bill, so he didn't have a legitimate claim to sit on any committee that resolves differences between the House and Senate versions that may emerge. Appearing on CNN, Hagel said McCain's views on campaign finance reform did not square with those of most of his GOP colleagues.

"Sen. McCain is not representative of the Republican conference on this bill," said Hagel, who had unsuccessfully pushed a rival measure in the Senate.

CNN Congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.

McCain-Feingold foe vows court battle if reform measure becomes law
April 1, 2001
Hagel's 'soft money' limits fall in Senate
March 27, 2001
Senate OKs 'real setback' to McCain-Feingold bill
March 26, 2001
TV ad launched supporting campaign finance reform
March 22, 2001
Campaign reformers try to hold off amendments
March 21, 2001
Senate OKs first change in campaign finance bill
March 20, 2001
Tireless Granny D supports campaign finance bill
March 19, 2001
McCain, Feingold rally supporters before campaign finance debate
March 16, 2001
Campaign finance reform groups allege violations by Ashcroft
March 9, 2001
McCain launches campaign finance reform town hall tour
January 29, 2001
McCain, Lott agree 'in principle' on campaign finance reform schedule
January 26, 2001

Federal Election Commission
  • Campaign Finance Law Resources
Election and Campaign Finance Law
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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