Clinton Prods Key Republicans as Campaign Finance Debate Drags On
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton prodded the Senate on Tuesday to act on its stalled campaign finance reform bill, taking special aim at a handful of Republicans who voted for a similar measure in the past.
But moderate Republicans, who sided with the Democrats on the issue last time, are still holding out for a compromise this year, their aides said.
The sticking point is that the Democratic-sponsored bill would provide for public financing of congressional campaigns, an idea reform advocates urge to reduce the influence of special-interest money. Most Republicans say taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for political campaigns.
At a news conference, Clinton sought to turn up the heat on GOP senators who had backed public financing in the past.
″The thing that particularly troubles me about this one is that several Republicans voted for a bill not unlike this last year which contained public financing,″ Clinton said.
The five Republicans who bolted from their party when the Senate passed campaign reform in 1991 were: Dave Durenberger of Minnesota, William Cohen of Maine, James Jeffords of Vermont, John McCain of Arizona and Larry Pressler of South Dakota.
Durenberger, Jeffords and McCain voted with Democrats again last year when the Senate sent a House-Senate compromise to President Bush - who carried through with his threat to veto the measure.
On Tuesday, four of the senators voted against a procedural Democratic motion to limit debate and bring the measure to a vote. Pressler did not vote.
But the spokesmen said Tuesday’s vote was meaningless, because the moderates would not back the Democratic bill until their positions on several issues were addressed.
Scott Celley, spokesman for McCain, said that Clinton’s statement was not in accord with comments by Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine. Celley said Mitchell made clear the five Republicans ″are not culprits but have been working diligently to gain a good campaign reform bill.
″There have been productive discussions that continue ... to get some agreement on a bill they could support. McCain wants to take further opportunity to improve the bill to take steps he couldn’t take last year.″
The moderate Republicans said they voted for the original bill when there was no chance of influencing a measure that everyone knew would be vetoed. The moderates said they wanted to go on record as supporting campaign finance reform, even if the bill had flaws.
Erik Smulson, Jeffords’ spokesman, said the Vermont Republican backed last session’s bill ″with reservations.″ Jeffords ″supported it as a symbol that he supports campaign finance reform. This year it’s a different playing field because Clinton wants to sign a bill.″
Karin Hope, of Durenberger’s staff, said, ″Last year it was an all or nothing proposition. You either vote for this bill or you are against campaign finance reform. This year, because he’s a moderate, because we know the president wants to sign the bill, he has an opportunity to influence the outcome.
″So he is using his position as a key moderate swing vote to bring about what he thinks are improvements to the bill. He didn’t have an opportunity to improve the bill last year.″