Senate to take up softened campaign finance reform
By Jonathan Karl/CNN
October 12, 1999
Web posted at: 6:01 p.m. EDT (2201 GMT)
WASHINGTON -- Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Republican John McCain of Arizona want to change the entire campaign finance system, but this week the two senators will fight for a more modest goal -- a ban on so-called "soft money."
"Let's move forward to try to address the most egregious and outrageous corrupting aspect of campaigns in America today and that is the incredible inundation of soft money and its pernicious effects," McCain said Tuesday.
Soft money is the cash given directly to the national parties and not subject to the federal limits places on individual campaigns.
The House already has passed a comprehensive campaign finance bill, but last year a Senate version of that bill fell eight votes short of the 60 votes needed to break Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell's filibuster.
"We couldn't break the filibuster without making some changes, we have to break the filibuster so we can at least have the House and the Senate both have a bill," Feingold explained.
But by limiting the scope of their bill, McCain and Feingold risk losing Democratic support.
"Scaling back the campaign finance reform bill may get more Republicans aboard, but it leaves many of us who have been involved in the reform movement for years in believing that we are doing something and accomplishing nothing," Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey) warned.
Democrats may have reason to be leery about a soft-money ban.
"In the '98 cycle the Democrats raised 50 percent of all their money through soft money. We only raised 40 percent of our money through soft money," Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) said.
During the first half of 1999, Democrats have raised more than $26 million in soft money -- nearly double the amount raised during the same period two years ago.
The top Democratic soft money donors include the Communications Workers of America, which gave $525,000; The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, $435,000; and AT&T, $305,200.
The Republican's top soft money donors are AT&T, $525,800; Philip Morris, $375,461; and the National Rifle Association, $244,000.
Democrats are now raising almost as much soft money as Republicans, but Republicans have a nearly two to one advantage in the so-called "hard money" given directly to candidates for campaigns.
"It would be very bad for both political parties and would largely turn the political discussion over to others," McConnell told CNN Tuesday, restating his opposition to the bill.
This week, the Senate is expected to debate a series of amendments some to further tighten campaign finance regulations, others to actually loosen the rules. But Republican opponents have made it clear they will filibuster against any bill that bans soft money.