Sponsors of campaign finance reform legislation got a lift from citizen-signed petitions but still face a bruising battle with Republican Senate opponents over union dues and constitutional questions.
President Clinton, in trouble for his own fund-raising tactics, tried to rally reform supporters Tuesday by warning that a vote against over-hauling the system "will be difficult to explain to the American people.""I believe we will prevail tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday after receiving stacks of petitions that interest groups said were signed by more than 1 million Americans urging passage of the bill he co-sponsored.
But he conceded that victory may not be straightforward. It could ultimately depend on GOP moderates, like Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who are pressing a compromise to avoid deadlock on the rancorous partisan issue of the use of union dues for political purposes.
Other matters - such as the constitutionality of the bill's proposed regulations on money spent by outside groups to influence elections - may be even tougher to solve.
In a White House ceremony Tueday designed to promote the legislation, Clinton denied a suggestion that his fund-raising record makes him the wrong person to pro-mote campaign finance reform.
"I'm not ashamed of the fact that we did the best we could in the present system," Clinton said. On Wednesday, the president travels to Philadelphia and New Jersey, were he has up to five fund-raisers scheduled.
Two Senate votes were scheduled on campaign finance, with 60 votes needed for success. Neither side appeared able to amass that many. All 45 Democrats and four Republicans support the bill Mc-Cain cosponsored with Fein-gold.
One vote would be on the Mc-Cain-Feingold bill, which would ban unlimited, unregulated "soft-money" contributions to political parties and regulate independent advertising campaigns by outside groups that promote a specific candidate within 60 days of an election. It also would provide in-centives 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 nonunion workers get reimbursed for fees the union spends on political purposes.
The other vote would be on what Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott considers essential - requiring unions to get each union member's permission to use dues for political purposes. The "worst campaign abuse of them all," said Lott, R-Miss., is the "forcible collection and expenditure of union dues for political purposes."
The amendment is a "poison pill" to McCain-Feingold supporters, who say it would doom the bill as Democratic backers bolt. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., denounces it as revenge for the AFL-CIO's spending of millions benefiting Democrats in the 1996 election.
McCain planned to seek another vote on Lott's proposal that would require only a simple majority to approve or kill it, and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine announced her support for that move Monday.
But Lott told fellow senators Monday night he wouldn't allow it, Democrats said.