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McCain, Feingold plan to introduce campaign finance bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin announced plans Thursday to introduce campaign finance legislation a few days after President-elect George W. Bush is sworn into office -- setting the stage for an early confrontation with the new administration, and the Senate Republican leadership.

McCain, Feingold, Cochran
Sen. John McCain  

"I believe we have the votes and we believe we have the momentum," McCain told reporters during a Capitol Hill press conference with Feingold and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, who has previously opposed measures to overhaul the nation's campaign finance system.

At the center of the legislation are measures that would by ban unrestricted "soft money donations" to political parties, and limitations on issue advertisements by outside groups on behalf of political candidates.

Feingold said that he hoped to introduce a bill that would serve as a starting point for continued debate on the issue, and expressed confidence that Republicans and Democrats would draft a comprehensive package after "an open amending process."


"John and I believe that every senator, of course, should be a part of that process," Feingold said.

The House approved campaign finance measures similar to the McCain-Feingold bill on each of the last two years, but McCain's bill has died numerous deaths in the Senate, where he and Feingold have been unable to muster the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster preventing a final vote.

Both McCain and Feingold are hopeful that Democratic gains resulting in this year's 50-50 split in the Senate will produce a wave a bipartisan cooperation that will finally push their legislation through.

Sen. Russ Feingold  

"I believe that the country wants this reform," McCain said. "There is no doubt about the explosion of soft money. There is no doubt that it is gridlocked us here in Washington and the message of the least election is that Americans do not want that."

Campaign finance was the central issue of McCain's unsuccessful Republican primary challenge against Bush. Although the former Texas governor embraced initiatives banning corporations and unions from donating "soft money" to political parties, he opposed limits on individual donors -- a major component of the McCain bill.

Bush has also repeatedly called for a so-called "paycheck protection" provision, which would allow individual union members to direct their leaders not to earmark their dues for political donations they do not support.

"I support campaign funding reform so long as business and labor are treated equally," Bush said Thursday. "I think that it very important to make sure there is paycheck protection in any campaign funding reform so that the playing field is level."

he president-elect refused to speculate if he would veto the McCain-Feingold legislation without a "paycheck protection" provision, telling reporters in Texas he planed to "worry about the 'ifs' once I get sworn in."

Feingold, Cochran, McCain
Sens. Feingold, Cochran and McCain  

In Washington, Cochran told reporters that he too had reservations about elements of the legislation, but urged that it be given top priority in the new Senate.

"There are parts of McCain-Feingold that I don't find all that attractive. But I think, as a part of an overall effort, we need to move this issue to a high priority on the agenda of the Senate in this year."

Republican leaders who oppose bans on soft money donations and other aspects of McCain-Feingold have expressed optimism they can find a solution that is more acceptable to conservatives.

But Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, a sponsor of alternative legislation the GOP leadership supports, concedes it will be very difficult to convince McCain to compromise on this issue unless there is some "global agreement."

CNN Producer Dana Bash contributed to this report


Thursday, January 4, 2001


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