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Bennett's 'killer' amendment on finance reform defeated

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Bennett usually attacks all efforts to ban unregulated "soft money."

But he sponsored an amendment Tuesday that would have eliminated such money for political action committees operated by labor unions and corporations.

It wasn't so much a serious attempt to ban soft money for those groups as it was an effort, in his words, "to expose some of the inconsistencies and even hypocrisies in the McCain-Feingold" campaign finance reform bill being debated by the Senate.

The Senate defeated that symbolic, hypocrisy-claiming amendment on a 63-37 vote after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., denounced it as part of a continuing attempt by Bennett, R-Utah, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to attach "killer amendments" to his bill.

That main bill would ban unlimited, unregulated "soft money" that now goes to political parties. It is now supposed to aid "party building," but often goes instead to help congressional races through party ads, which don't specifically urge a vote for or against a candidate, and for get-out-the-vote efforts.

More soft money is spent in some key races than candidates themselves spend through "hard money," donations of which are limited and fully disclosed.

Bennett complained the McCain-Feingold bill will still allow PACs to use some soft money but not parties. "The whole exercise is to bash political parties," Bennett said, so he pushed his amendment that would ban it for all.

McCain said Bennett's amendment could have prevented corporations and unions from soliciting employees to donate to their PACs via newsletters, unless they paid for such solicitations with "hard money."

He also said it could prevent small PACs from using company or union facilities to house their operations, or employees from spending any working time to help them, unless they paid for it with hard money.

Bennett countered that if McCain-Feingold passes, parties will soon face similar restrictions.

"If soft money (for parties) . . . is inherently corrupting or gives the appearance of corruption, (then PAC soft money) is a form of soft money that is even more the appearance of corruption because under McCain-Feingold it is: A. Allowed; and, B. Not disclosed," Bennett said.

The opposition to the McCain-Feingold bill is led by McConnell and Bennett.

Bennett says imposing more limits on political spending infringes on First Amendment freedom of expression. "I don't want to be part of something that dilutes freedom of speech," he said.

McCain argues that his bill would limit the power of wealthy special interests. The Senate is expected to debate the bill for another week and a half.