Democrats double 'soft money' funds

By Jonathan D. Salant, Associated Press, 09/25/99

ASHINGTON - The Democratic Party has nearly doubled its ''soft money'' fund-raising this year, even as party leaders push for a ban on these big donations from unions, corporations, and individuals.

Democratic committees took in $26.4 million in unlimited soft money contributions in the first half of this year, up from $13.7 million during the last comparable period, the first six months of 1997.

''I just think it shows the hypocrisy,'' said Marit Babin, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. ''They think it's a good campaign issue, yet they haven't turned down any checks.''

Republicans raised even more soft money: $30.9 million during the first six months of the year, a 42 percent increase over 1997, when they raised $21.7 million. Most congressional Republicans oppose the soft money ban, however.

At a meeting of the House GOP in August, Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson and Representative Thomas Davis of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, argued that a ban on soft money would leave the party's candidates vulnerable to unlimited expenditures by labor unions and other groups that back Democrats.

The Republican-controlled House approved a ban on soft money, nonetheless, in a 252-177 vote Sept. 14. Of 210 Democrats, 197 voted for the measure.

But Democrats said they can not afford to give up soft money while the Republicans are still raking it in.

''I believe we should make it illegal, but we should make it illegal for everyone,'' said Representative Martin Meehan of Lowell, the lead Democratic sponsor of the bill.

Parties can raise soft money for get-out-the-vote drives and other party-building activities. Since the money is not raised under federal rules, it cannot be used to directly help elect candidates.