INSIDE THE BELTWAY: McCain-Feingold isn't likely to pass, but think about what Washington would be like if it did

While Republicans on Capitol Hill quiver at the possibility of meaningful campaign finance reform, political consultants are not nearly as nervous.

While Republicans on Capitol Hill quiver at the possibility of meaningful campaign finance reform, political consultants are not nearly as nervous.

While Republicans on Capitol Hill quiver at the possibility of meaningful campaign finance reform, political consultants are not nearly as nervous.

As permanent members of the Washington establishment, the consultants know better. Having seen countless prior attempts at reform fail, they don't think the McCain-Feingold bill will ever see the light of day, regardless of whether Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, claims to have a filibuster-proof majority.

They argue that even if the bill, whose signature plank is a ban on the dollars 457 million in soft money that flooded the system in 2000, passes the Senate, it will be vetoed by President Bush.

If reform somehow overcame that obstacle, consultants are convinced it would be blocked by the courts or that the final product would contain loopholes. As the tide of soft money and its companion, issue advertising, continues to rise, the truth is political consultants can't even contemplate what such a bill might do to their business.

The Democratic National Committee raised dollars 115 million in soft money in 2000, compared to dollars 147 million by the Republican National Committee. When combined, these figures nearly double the amount raised during the 1995-1996 presidential cycle. But the real news was the haul by the House and Senate party committees.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) collected dollars 50 million in soft money, 5.5 times more than it raised in 1996, to propel Democrats to a near-majority in the Senate.

Much of that money was spent on issue ads in key states like Florida, Delaware, Washington and Michigan. The money was spread between a handful of consultants that were intimately familiar with each state's political terrain, including David Dixon in Virginia, Axelrod and Associates in New York and Doak, Carrier O'Donnell in Missouri.

Democrats, in fact, are nervous about the momentum building for reform because of their successful last cycle. They could be victims of their own success, as the seven Democratic senators elected largely with soft money say they're pro-reform.

If reform were to pass, said one strategist, the House and Senate party committees would be taken back to the 'old days' when the role of parties was simply to provide limited, coordinated spending. After that, the Democrat added, 'Essentially, the committees are done.'

McCain-Feingold would significantly change the way consultants and strategists in Washington do business. But not to worry, Bush and the courts are providing formidable obstacles to the first system-wide overhaul since Watergate.



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