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Democrats urged to renew efforts to push through campaign reforms

WASHINGTON — The Democratic sponsor of a campaign finance bill said Saturday the Senate battle is going well, but there are hints that some proposed amendments could fracture the fragile coalition supporting the overhaul.

Delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said the critical debate would take place next week.

His bill, co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., seeks to ban "soft money" — unlimited contributions that unions, corporations and individuals may donate to political parties for use other than the "express advocacy" of a candidate's election or defeat.

"With strong support from Democrats, and a small but hardy group of Republicans who have broken with their leadership and spoken out in favor of the bill, we have a strong coalition in the Senate to pass meaningful reform," Feingold said.

But Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Friday that his support for the measure could falter if an amendment seeking to raise "hard money" contributions to candidates succeeds. The amendment would increase the current $1,000-a-year limit to $3,000.

Daschle said such a boost would unfairly help Republicans because they have more rich donors able to pay that amount.

"It goes to the fear that we have that Republicans legally will lock in an advantage that we will never be able to overcome," he told reporters.

He didn't say if he would support a smaller increase in the limit.

Feingold said the possible amendments shouldn't cause the bill to fail.

"Wealthy interests have too much power in our political system, but we don't have to just shrug our shoulders and say that's the way politics has to be," he said.

Both McCain and Feingold have said it is inevitable that the $1,000 limit, in place since 1974, will be raised, but McCain said the two have yet to reach a common position.

Feingold said Friday that tripling the limit "is way too high."