Senate Finally Gets First Vote on Campaign-Finance Reform

Article excerpt

The Senate today will face its first votes on a subject that so far has been all talk: campaign-finance reform.

Lawmakers will decide whether to overhaul the way political campaigns are financed or to leave in place the status quo, which Democrats believe disproportionately benefits Republicans.

Democrats have been pushing reform as an answer to the campaign-finance scandal they find themselves swimming in. They also want to eliminate "soft" money - party-building funds that are not given to specific candidates. Democrats have had trouble competing with Republicans to raise these monies.

Republicans have pulled out the stops to kill that effort. When Democrats insisted on bringing reform to the floor, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott created an amendment that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, dubbed a "poison pill."

"How will changing the rules and the laws and the regulations change the behavior of those already inclined to break them?" asked Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican. "It won't."

The first vote will be a test of Mr. Lott's amendment, which bars unions from using dues for political campaigns without members' permission.

Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, appears to be short of the 60 votes needed to beat a filibuster.

But he may succeed in taking down the approach to reform that he and Sen. Mitch McConnell, chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee and Kentucky Republican, loathe.

If Mr. Lott comes up shy, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russell D. Feingold will get a crack at their version of reform - essentially a ban on soft money, which often is used to finance the last-minute ads that can turn a close race.

"Can we continue to pass laws and elect people based on how much money they have and expect a participatory democracy to survive? …