McCain-Feingold Faces New Hurdle, McConnell Says

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says a little-noticed federal ruling in an Alaskan federal court could squelch any chances for the ban on soft money campaign contributions sought after by his colleagues, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.

U.S. District Judge James Singleton ruled Friday that a ban on soft money contributions from businesses and unions to political parties is unconstitutional, but upheld a ban on such contributions to individual candidates.

The centerpiece of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill is a ban on all soft money, the large and largely unregulated sums of money given to political parties. After passing the Senate, their proposal has yet to win approval in the House, but McCain has vowed to bring a bill to President Bush this session.

But the Alaska decision could stymie McCain's efforts.

"McCain-Feingold is a ticking constitutional time-bomb: If enacted, it would blow up the minute it landed in court and I'll be the lead plaintiff lighting the fuse," said McConnell, who has long led the battle cry against the so-called "reforms" proposed to the current campaign finance laws.

But McCain's office warns against the opposition being too cocksure. Spokeswoman Nancy Ives insists "an overwhelming majority of constitutional scholars have deemed banning soft money to be on sound constitutional ground."

University of Illinois law professor Ron Rotunda disagrees. "There are very high constitutional hurdles to overcome here," and they all revolve around free speech issues. "The expression that money talks is true. This [Alaska] case is relevant."

Both sides are also looking to a Colorado case next week before the U.S. Supreme Court as a bellwether for the future of campaign finance changes. The high court is expected to rule whether it is constitutional for Colorado to limit the amount of hard money going to individual candidates.