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Senator Urges Negotiations on Campaign Finance Bill

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Warned by a fellow Republican senator that the major campaign finance reform bill now before Congress is unconstitutional and will be blocked from passage, one of the authors of the measure on Sunday challenged his uncommitted colleagues to negotiate a compromise.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona also predicted there would be a political price to pay if Congress fails to pass a campaign finance bill this year, given the escalating controversy surrounding the issue.

“A lot of my colleagues say they’re for campaign finance reform, only not ours,” McCain said on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press.” “We’re willing to sit down and negotiate.”

But the impetus for such reform, McCain added, “is not going to come from inside the Republicans in the Senate, because they’re the majority party, to be very frank. . . . It’s going to come . . . from outside the Beltway in the disgust and anger and cynicism of the American people.”

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The Democratic co-sponsor of the reform bill, meanwhile, called Sunday for Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to name an independent counsel to investigate mushrooming allegations of fund-raising improprieties during the 1996 election cycle, including questionable practices by officials on President Clinton’s White House staff and the Democratic National Committee.

“Regrettably,” said Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), “I think we have come to [that] point.”

So far, Reno has refused to transfer the investigation out of her office. But Feingold, who appeared with McCain on “Meet the Press,” joined a growing chorus of Clinton allies calling for an independent counsel. Earlier this week, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) said he believes that only such a counsel can credibly investigate whether laws were broken by senior Clinton administration officials.

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McCain, who previously has urged Reno to appoint an independent counsel, Sunday termed such a move “inevitable.”

The McCain-Feingold bill would create voluntary campaign-spending limits; candidates acceding to the restrictions and who agree to raise 60% of their funds from within their own state would be rewarded with free television time and reduced postal rates for advertising.

The bill also would ban so-called soft money, the unlimited contributions allowed to party committees and the practice at the heart of the controversy. Additionally, the measure would prohibit political action committees from contributing to candidates for federal office.

A glimpse of the struggle the bill may face was provided Sunday by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who also appeared on the NBC program and is one of Congress’ most vocal foes of campaign finance reform.

McConnell, head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, called the McCain-Feingold bill “well-intentioned,” but “blatantly and thoroughly unconstitutional.” He vowed to filibuster the measure if it ever comes to the Senate floor for a vote.

The bill’s provisions, McConnell argued, would “actually take a hunk out of the 1st Amendment for the first time in 200 years . . . [and] put the government in charge of political discourse, political speech, in this country. That’s really a draconian step in the wrong direction, and I’m unalterably opposed to it and I don’t believe it will pass.”

A filibuster by McConnell would require backers to have 60 votes to proceed. Feingold said additional co-sponsors have been added in recent months, boosting the measure’s likelihood of passage.

“I guarantee you that the mood this year is a lot tougher for people to vote against campaign finance reform than it was a year ago,” he said. “The McCain-Feingold bill will pass this year, and as the drip, drip, drip of this [campaign finance] investigation continues, it will become increasingly clear that it is only a bipartisan bill that will go through.”

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Also Sunday, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, acknowledged that three people on the group’s payroll are still doing advance work for the White House, but he said he hopes such co-mingling of responsibilities will be halted.

Last week, the White House, under fire for its problems in keeping political and official activities separate, announced that it would stop paying five employees from DNC political funds. They were shifted to the White House payroll.

But Romer said on ABC-TV’s “This Week” that the White House and DNC have yet to decide about three others who do advance work for the Clinton administration but are paid by the Democratic committee.

“My advice on that would be that it would be better that we have no one over there on the DNC payroll,” Romer said.

“Even though it is legal, it is a matter you have got to continue to explain--are you doing government work, or are you doing political work?--and I believe we ought to keep a bright line between them if we can,” he said.


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