Ohio Senators Label Campaign Finance Bill 'Unconstitutional'

WASHINGTON (AP) - Ohio's two Republican senators spoke out against legislation overhauling the nation's campaign finance laws, which the Senate approved Wednesday. They described the bill as unconstitutional and a blow to free speech.

"This bill tramples on the Constitution," Sen. George Voinovich said. "There are pieces of it that work and which I support ... but overall it worsens the situation."

The bill, which was approved by a 60-40 vote after clearing the House last month, would limit "soft money" donations to political parties and ban use of such money for certain activities, such as "issue ads" purchased within 60 days of an election or 30 days of a primary.

Soft money contributions previously were unlimited and often amounted to hefty donations made to parties by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals.

Sen. Mike DeWine said that while he supports reducing the influence of soft money, he objects to restrictions on its use, even though issue ads, customarily purchased by political parties or outside groups, often are harshly critical of candidates.

"We simply cannot take a sledgehammer to our First Amendment and shatter it. We cannot stifle the rights of the people to criticize us and our government," DeWine said. "Even if we elected officials don't like what they say, the people have a constitutional right to say it."

The campaign finance changes will take effect on Nov. 6, meaning parties can continue to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in soft money to support candidates in this fall's elections.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)