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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.

"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.

Lott said he felt no public pressure to move on the bill McCain sponsored with Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., which is supported by all 45 Democratic senators. Lott said 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."

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."

The Senate planned to hold another cloture vote on the McCain-Feingold bill later Wednesday. On Thursday, cloture votes were scheduled on both the bill and on Lott's union-dues amendment.

"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."

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."