Kerry event raises soft money, scorn

By Bob Hohler, Globe Staff, 10/21/99

ASHINGTON - Brimming with indignation, Senator John F. Kerry this week clamored on the Senate floor for an end to soft money, warning that the large, unregulated contributions are poisoning the nation's politics.

''Do you know where it comes from?'' Kerry asked Tuesday, standing at his mahogany desk in the Senate chamber. ''It comes from US senators who are passing legislation, making telephone calls or having meetings with high-powered corporate types or very rich people who write checks for $50,000, $100,000, $250,000, and $300,000.''

And just because Democrats sometimes have exploited the soft-money loophole in federal election laws better than Republicans, Kerry said, ''It doesn't make it right.''

Tonight, only two days after his impassioned speech to the Senate, Kerry is scheduled to host a private fund-raiser at his townhouse in Washington's Georgetown section that is expected to generate $250,000 for the Democratic Party - in soft money.

As he planned to fuel the multimillion-dollar, soft-money machine he has railed against, Kerry yesterday drew scorn from his Republican foes and varied measures of support from his allies in the stymied effort to revamp the nation's campaign finance system.

Kerry's fund-raiser, highlighted by an appearance by President Clinton, comes two days after Senate Republicans killed two campaign-finance measures that Kerry supported, both of which called for banning soft money.

''If Senator Kerry was truly committed to ridding the system of soft money, he would cancel his fund-raiser,'' said state Representative Brian Cresta of Wakefield, chairman of the state Republican Party. ''It's another proof that he is the do-as-I-say senator and not the do-as-I-do senator, and he just can't be trusted.''

Kerry, who developed a formidable fund-raising network as a former chief of the Senate Democratic election effort, is an honorary chairman of the Democratic National Committee's elite Leadership 2000 group of donors who have pledged to raise $350,000 in soft money for the fight to hold the White House and gain power in Congress.

His spokesman, David Wade, defended Kerry's pursuit of soft money while trying to ban it.

''Unfortunately, under the current system, Democrats have to fund-raise just to remain competitive, and we simply cannot disarm unilaterally,'' Wade said. ''Throughout his public life, John Kerry has tried to reform the campaign finance system, and he thinks it's time right now to elect Democrats to Congress who are going to pass campaign finance reform.''

A short motorcade ride from Kerry's event, Clinton also will attend a fund-raiser tonight at Senator Edward M. Kennedy's Washington home near Embassy Row. Kennedy expects 350 guests to contribute about $400,000 for his reelection campaign, none of it in soft money.

Federal election law limits the amount individuals may contribute to a specific candidate to $2,000 per election cycle. But there are no caps on soft-money donations to political parties from corporations, labor unions, and wealthy individuals.

Kerry's fund-raiser will be more intimate than Kennedy's, with about 25 donors from the high-tech industry each contributing at least $10,000 to the Democratic Party.

Both political parties are scrambling to cash in on the burgeoning wealth among leaders of the high-tech industry. The soft money he hopes to raise is expected to be earmarked for party building endeavors such as voter registration drives.

Although some election watchdog groups questioned the timing of Kerry's soft-money fund-raiser so soon after the Senate showdown on campaign finance, advocates for overhauling the system generally expressed support for Kerry.

''Soft money is bad,'' said David Donnelly, executive director of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections. ''But reform groups measure senators and representatives on their support of campaign finance reform, and Senator Kerry is about as good as they get. Unfortunately, he has to play in this system, but it's the only system we've got.''