McCain challenges GOP field on money issue

By John Aloysius Farrell, Globe Staff, 10/07/99

ASHINGTON - Senator John McCain of Arizona dared his fellow Republican presidential contenders yesterday to demonstrate their commitment to campaign finance reform by supporting his bill to ban ''soft money'' from the political process.

Kicking off a two-week stretch in which he hopes that campaign finance, one of his signature issues, will command national attention, McCain called the current system an ''incumbency protection racket.'' He challenged Texas Governor George W. Bush, in particular, to make good on his stated opposition to the use of soft money.

The Senate is expected to debate the legislation next week; a similar version passed in the House in September. Current campaign law allows corporations, unions, and individuals to contribute unlimited amounts of cash to political parties. McCain has sponsored the Senate bill with Russell Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.

''If even half of the members of Congress who have endorsed your candidacy were to honor your request, McCain-Feingold would pass with votes to spare,'' McCain wrote Bush. ''I ask that you send a letter to the Republican congressional leadership, urging them to vote for passage of the McCain-Feingold legislation.''

Officials at Bush's presidential campaign did not immediately respond to McCain's challenge. If Bush does not join McCain's crusade, the senator intends to take the governor to task on the campaign trail.

Bush is ''one fax away from making a big difference'' in the congressional debate over campaign reform, said McCain adviser Mike Murphy. ''Otherwise, we will take it to New Hampshire.''

Mindy Tucker, a spokeswoman for the Bush campaign, said, ''Like thousands of Americans who write to us, we are glad Senator McCain has recognized Governor Bush's leadership ability.''

Tucker said Bush has already taken the lead on the issue of campaign finance reform by becoming the first presidential candidate in either party to post a daily list of campaign contributions on the Internet.

McCain did not spare the Democrats in his remarks yesterday. ''The scandal in Washington in 1996 wasn't Monica Lewinsky,'' he said, but rather the steps that President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore took to raise money for the Democratic ticket. ''The president treated the Lincoln Bedroom like it was Motel 6 and he was the bellhop.''

McCain released his letter at a lunchtime appearance before the Committee for Economic Development, a group of corporate leaders from some of the nation's biggest companies who have declared their opposition to soft money. (He was scheduled to make a speech on a similar theme at the Algonquin Club in Boston last night.)