Divided Senate Republicans Face Hard Campaign Finance Reform Task
Hallow, Ralph Z., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
George W. Bush's espousal of campaign finance reform intensified the challenge that Senate Republicans, divided over the issue, will face next month.
That's when Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, says he will begin hearings on a compromise reform measure introduced by Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.
While Mr. Bush told the New York Times yesterday that Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, "didn't change my views" on campaign finance, Mr. Bush offered his own reform variation during his ultimately triumphant nomination fight with the Arizona senator.
Six days before the South Carolina primary last month, Mr. Bush outlined a similar version of Mr. Hagel's plan and thus gave an added a measure of acceptability to the Hagel bill.
Passage, however, would require sacrifices by Democrats and Republicans alike, Mr. Hagel told The Washington Times.
Senate Republican strategists said privately that the debate that is about to ensue on the bill and efforts to amend it will challenge Republicans to win a public relations battle with the Democrats and much of the press.
"For the major media outlets and the Democrats over the last five years, reform has meant whatever McCain says it is," a senior aide to a member of Senate Republican leadership said. "We need to challenge that and say there are other ways to reform the system."
"The major media and the Democrats will add up the increased amount individuals can contribute and claim this is campaign reform that benefits the rich - and the Republicans," the Senate Republican aide predicted.
Unlike the reform Mr. McCain espouses, the Hagel version preserves "soft money" - unregulated contributions - and increases the limits on federally regulated "hard money" that individuals may give to candidates.
Also unlike a version of the McCain plan, the Hagel bill preserves contributions by interest groups for issue advocacy advertisements.
Because Republicans tend to do better with individual contributions, they expect the Democrats to oppose boosting contribution limits to $3,000 per individual from the current $1,000 ceiling and the total limit individuals may donate to various candidates for federal office.
Mr. Hagel defended limiting soft money contributions to party campaign committees by saying the growing proportion of that money was eroding candidates' control over their own campaigns. …