Democratic challenger Walt Minnick blasted Republican Sen. Larry Craig on Tuesday for helping kill campaign finance reform legislation for the rest of the year.
But Craig spokesman Mike Tracy said the senator, who began a statewide radio advertising drive for a second six-year term this week, had constitutional questions about the bipartisan legislation that remained unanswered.
The legislation was intended to reduce campaign costs and the influence of special interest groups and candidates’ personal wealth. Craig was one of 45 Republicans and lone Democrat Howell Heflin of Alabama to block bringing the bill to a vote. Sixty votes were needed to end debate, but only 54 - including eight Republicans - were mustered.
With substantial help from special interest political action committees, Craig has already spent more than $1 million on his re-election effort and raised more than $1.4 million since Jan. 1, 1995 - nearly $500,000 of that from special interests.
Minnick raised about $580,000 and spent about $350,000 through the last report for early May, but he has also said he will commit $500,000 of his own fortune to the race.
“Senator Craig had a choice to either bring meaningful reform to campaign finance law or to continue business as usual in the Senate,” Minnick charged. “Unfortunately, Senator Craig made the wrong choice.”
But Tracy said Craig refused to cut off debate until his questions were answered - specifically on the bill’s impact on the right to free speech. He said Craig feared it allowed the Federal Election Commission to engage in prior restraint against candidates or their campaigns.
The bill called for incentives such as discounted broadcast time and mailing rates to candidates who limited total spending to maximums based on each state’s size, collected 60 percent of campaign contributions from home state residents, and limited the money they contributed from their own bank accounts to $250,000 - and that only in the largest states.
The measure also sought to ban political action committee contributions to all federal candidates. But if that were declared unconstitutional, it would simply reduce the maximum contribution from $5,000 to $1,000. The bill also would have ended unlimited “soft money” donations.