Sen. Stevens changes position on campaign finance reform issue

Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens has changed his position on a campaign finance reform bill being debated in the Senate.

Stevens, R-Alaska, had said he would vote in favor of the bill, but now is opposed.

Stevens said the bill before the Senate still allows political expenditures to be routed through nonprofit groups as tax-deductible donations. But donations to candidates, who must respond to the ads produced by the nonprofit groups, are not tax-deductible.

Stevens said he believes that is unfair, and a danger for Alaska candidates because of the clout given to nonprofit environmental groups. The Senate took up the bill Monday. It is poised to approve the legislation that would curb hundreds of millions of dollars of unregulated ''soft money'' that has flowed into election campaigns in the past decade.

Environmental groups and others who support the bill say Stevens' concern is unwarranted. Most nonprofit groups don't and won't use tax-deductible money for the kind of campaigns the senator describes, they said.

Sen. Frank Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both R-Alaska, have voted against campaign finance reform. But almost exactly one year ago, Stevens voted for a bill similar to the one now being debated.

At the time, he said he wasn't happy with the legislation but had promised Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and a prime sponsor, that he would vote for it.

''I voted for that bill thinking that it would go to conference and be worked out by a bipartisan group in conference so it would be a fair bill,'' Stevens said Friday. That's not going to happen now, he said.

''They have not dealt with the problem of tax-deductible money getting into politics through the ... nonprofit corporations,'' Stevens said.

Since the bill bans soft money (the unlimited donations that political parties can collect and use to indirectly help their candidates), people seeking to influence the system will turn to nonprofit groups, Stevens said.

''And I've told them time and time again I was not going to vote for it unless they address that issue. I think it's a travesty,'' he said.

The legislation was passed by the House last month. If it gets Senate approval, it then will go to the White House. The president has indicated he will sign it.

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