GOP leaders warn lawmakers against proposed ban on 'soft money'

By David Espo, Associated Press, 09/14/99

ASHINGTON - With campaign finance legislation looming this summer, Republican chairman Jim Nicholson and a key GOP House lawmaker made a private appeal aimed at the political self-interest of the party's rank-and-file.

Passage of the bill would strip the party of a $40 million ''soft money'' advantage over Democrats, warned Nicholson and Representative Tom Davis, the Virginian who chairs the Republican House campaign committee, according to GOP sources.

They added that the bill's proposed ban on soft money would leave GOP candidates vulnerable to unlimited expenditures by unions and other groups trying to overturn the narrow Republican majority in the House.

Soft money donations are unlimited in size and unregulated by the federal government.

''During the 1998 election cycle, soft money helped fund over 32 million phone bank calls, over 27 million GOTV'' - get out the vote - ''mail pieces, over 18 million absentee ballots and over 4.5 million issue and GOTV calls,'' said material prepared for Davis's and Nicholson's presentation.

In addition, Republicans used soft money to transfer $34.3 million to state parties and to make $5.8 million in direct contributions to state and local candidates.

''Democrats know that eliminating soft money will give them an electoral advantage,'' the material said.

The session marked another phase in a long effort by GOP leaders to kill the bipartisan measure. The bill, due on the House floor today, is supported by the White House as well as most House Democrats and a minority of Republicans.

The House approved a nearly identical measure last year by a vote of 352-179.

The measure, authored by Representative Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, and Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, would ban national parties from accepting unlimited soft money donations and prohibit state parties from using such funds to influence federal elections.