GOP and Soft Money Find Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

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Money is as money does. A Republican filibuster left campaign finance reform dead in the water for a fourth consecutive year late Tuesday, despite Senator John McCain's no-surrender vow. All 45 Democrats voted against the maneuver by the GOP leadership, but they were joined by only eight Republicans, leaving them seven votes short of the 60 they needed to defeat the filibuster. Although the bill's sponsors — Senators McCain and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) — had narrowed down the legislation into a ban on the unlimited soft-money contributions that allow corporations to pour millions of dollars into party coffers, the vote followed last year's pattern.

McCain and Feingold, who vowed to bring the bill back into the well of the Senate despite Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's pronouncement that it was dead for the year, hadn't expected to win this round. But the vote set the stage for Senator McCain to make the issue a centerpiece of his Republican presidential primary campaign, and for the Democrats to take it into next year's election. On his way into a fund-raiser for Democratic congressional candidates Tuesday night, President Clinton lashed out at the Senate vote as a "victory for the politics of cynicism." But with contributions to the parties for the 2000 election expected to reach $550 million — double the figure for the last election — the smart money is on soft money.