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Campaign reform won't happen in '97, Lott says

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.

Just hours later, the Senate once 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 were 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 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."

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah - a leading opponent of the bill - said the Senate should now turn to other proposals.

"The vote to defeat McCain-Feingold is anti-climatic. The Supreme Court ruled yesterday, as I always said it would, that the tenets of McCain-Feingold are unconstitutional," he said.

"My primary concern and objection to McCain-Feingold from the beginning has been its violation of the First Amendment - which he says comes through such things as limiting `soft money' donations to parties and limiting overall campaign spending."