10/08/97 - 05:54 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Opponents: McCain-Feingold is dead

WASHINGTON - Congress will not overhaul campaign finance laws this year, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Wednesday, calling the measure a "diversionary tactic" to distract the public from Democratic misdeeds. Hours later, the Senate again refused to force a majority-wins vote on the measure.

"Campaign finance reform is not going to pass this year," Lott, R-Miss., told reporters. On Tuesday, the Senate blocked action on a bipartisan bill and on Lott's amendment to make it more difficult for unions to spend members' dues on political campaigns.

Supporters of the legislation promised to keep pushing to eliminate huge contributions they say make all politicians look bad. "We don't intend to let the issue die," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a co-sponsor of the bill.

Backers of the bill sponsored by McCain and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., failed again Wednesday - by eight votes - to force a majority-wins vote on the measure. The so-called cloture vote was 52-47.

The eight Republicans who had supported it Tuesday, along with all 45 Democrats, were reduced by one Wednesday. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., changed his vote because he opposes the "guerrilla warfare strategy of bringing up this cloture vote day after day," said spokeswoman Sue Hensley.

On Thursday, cloture votes are scheduled on both the McCain-Feingold bill and on Lott's union-dues amendment.

Lott said he felt no public pressure to move on the McCain-Feingold bill and that he is not worried Republicans will be blamed for blocking it.

"I am proud to accept responsibility for protecting the First Amendment (right of) free speech," he said. "I would be derelict in my duties if I allowed or supported an effort to take away the opportunity for people to participate in the election process, to advocate issues, to advocate candidates."

The push to overhaul campaign finance rules is a Democratic "diversionary tactic" to "change the subject," Lott said. "The problem is not inadequate regulations or laws on the books in regard to campaign contributions. The problem is the laws have been broken."

But McCain said he won't give up.

"The issue's not going away," McCain said on ABC's Good Morning America Wednesday. "It just is not. There's too many revelations, too many scandals. There will be too much demand on the part of the American people to clean up the system."

"Campaign reform probably choked a little today, but it didn't die," Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Tuesday. "It's alive. It's well."

McCain resurrected his threat to try to attach it to other legislation, saying, "We're going to be back, and we will be amending bills that are on the floor until we get an up-or-down vote" on the measure.

President Clinton, who is in trouble for his own campaign fund-raising tactics, called the votes "not the end of this fight for campaign finance reform but the beginning. ... I will fight for this measure as hard as necessary, for as long as necessary."

The McCain-Feingold bill would ban unlimited, unregulated "soft-money" contributions to political parties and regulate independent advertising campaigns by outside groups that promote a specific candidate. It also would provide incentives for politicians not to spend too much of their own money, impose new disclosure requirements on campaign donations, and put into law a Supreme Court decision letting non-union workers get reimbursed for fees the union spends on political purposes.

"The vast majority of the American people feel totally distanced from Washington, from the Senate, from American politics, because of the amount of money in it," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a supporter of the bill.

Opponents say McCain-Feingold would unconstitutionally limit free speech by restricting independent groups wanting to be involved in the political process, and that there should be more money, not less, in the political system.

"This effort to put the government in charge of political discussion is not going to pass now, it's not going to pass tomorrow, it's not going to pass ever," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Lott's amendment would require unions to get each union member's permission to use their dues for political purposes.

But Daschle called the amendment "a poison pill used as a ruse to defeat meaningful campaign finance reform" by undercutting McCain-Feingold's unanimous Democratic support.

"It's openly advertised as an effort to kill the underlying legislation," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., a McCain-Feingold backer who chairs the Senate's investigation of campaign fund-raising abuses.

McConnell called the McCain-Feingold bill and the union amendment "the Siamese twins of this debate. There will not be one without the other."

In Tuesday's votes, eight Republicans joined 45 Democrats in the 53-47 losing attempt to allow a vote on McCain-Feingold, seven short of the 60 needed. Three Republicans sided with Democrats against the GOP move to allow a vote on the union amendment, which was eight votes short at 52-48.

By The Associated Press

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