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Democratic Chairmen Get Campaign Finances While They Can

Campaign finance reform has already passed the Senate and could be well on its way to passing the House, so politicians banking on the old rules may want to do so in a hurry.

Senate Democratic chairmen are well on their way. According to Federal Elections Commission filing reports, five Democratic committee chairmen, several with presidential ambitions, managed to take in a combined sum of more than $13.5 million last year.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, raised more than $2.8 million last year, with about a half-million of that coming in June, the month after Democrats took control. He took in roughly $1.4 million from July through December, including $635,825 from political action committees.

Oft-named presidential candidate and Small Business Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts raised about $3.8 million last year for his 2002 race for a fourth Senate term.

Since his 1996 election, Kerry has taken in a total of $9.5 million, but had to pay off debts from a tough race against then-Gov. William Weld.

"Since John doesn't take PAC money it took a lot to raise that payoff in small increments," said spokesman David Wade. "It was only in January 2001 that he was able to start raising money for 2002."

In addition to Baucus and Kerry, Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan raised $2.7 million and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, head of the Agriculture Committee, collected about $2.6 million. Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, Foreign Relations Committee chairman and a possible presidential contender, raised about $1.6 million.

They aren't the only ones who have taken advantage of the sudden switch in the Senate from a Republican to a Democratic Majority last June. When Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., left the Republican party and started voting with Democrats, new Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle saw a big bump in his political action committee.

DASHPAC received a half-million dollars in June, and $1.5 million for the year. Undecided whether to run for president in 2004, the same year he comes up for re-election in the Senate, Daschle, D-S.D., is contributing $500,000 from DASHPAC to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in order to expand the Democrats' one-vote majority.

Asked about his presidential hopes, Daschle said, "I've got three options: I can retire, I can run for re-election or I can run for national office," he said. "At various points in my career all three of those have sounded interesting, but I haven't made any decision at all."

Another Democratic leader in the $1 million-plus fund-raising club is Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the Government Affairs Committee and former vice presidential candidate.

His Responsibility, Opportunity, Community political action committee, formed last April, raised $1.2 million last year and contributed to at least 15 Senate campaigns and 41 House campaigns.

Another Democrat who is facing a tough re-election this year also raised more than $1 million last year. Sen. Tim Johnson is going up against Republican Rep. John Thune for the junior seat from South Dakota, and the race is expected to cost $10 million. Lieberman and Daschle are both contributing to Johnson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.