WASHINGTON — As federal election officials reported that fund raising for House and Senate races has risen sharply, President Bush killed a sweeping Democratic-sponsored campaign finance bill Saturday with a veto that Congress has no chance of overriding.
The bill, the broadest campaign reform legislation in nearly 20 years, would have provided public funds and other incentives to Senate and House candidates who agreed to limit election spending.
Bush, however, said in his veto message that the bill would allow "a corrupting influence of special interests" in campaign financing and give an unfair advantage to congressional incumbents, the majority of whom are Democrats.
Voting on the campaign finance legislation had mainly followed party lines, but the House and Senate passed the bill by margins far short of veto-proof majorities. Democratic leaders acknowledged in advance that they could not override the President on the politically sensitive legislation.
The steep increase in congressional fund raising was detailed in a Federal Election Commission report showing that House and Senate candidates have raised $247.5 million in the last 15 months, or 28.5% more than the amount raised during a corresponding period two years ago. Spending also was up from $125.6 million in the 1989-90 period to $170.1 million in the more recent 15-month cycle.
The increase reflects the higher cost of campaigning for Congress and the larger number of challengers this year, especially in new or altered districts resulting from reapportionment after the 1990 census.
Among House candidates, the FEC said, 354 challengers raised a total of $16 million, or 85% more than 224 challengers had accumulated at this point in the 1990 races. In addition, House incumbents raised $92 million, or 7.5% more than in the corresponding period two years ago.
Two Senate races in California, where nine contenders have raised more than $1 million each in the last 15 months, helped boost overall spending for Senate campaigns.
Political action committees, as usual, gave most of their contributions to incumbents. Of $22.9 million given to Senate candidates, 79% are in office. Of $47.7 million contributed in House races, 91% went to incumbents.
Democrats may try to use Bush's veto of the reform bill in the fall campaign by charging that he blocked changes in the law that would reduce the effect vast sums of money have on elections.
Bush already has come under fire for soliciting big business contributions this year at a President's Dinner, where Republicans raised $9 million in one evening.
The President, however, has proposed to abolish political action committees--organizations of business, labor and trade associations that pool contributions.
The measure approved by the Democratic-controlled Congress would curtail the influence of such committees, known as PACs, but not eliminate them entirely.
"I cannot accept legislation . . . that contains spending limits or public subsidies or fails to eliminate special interest PACs," Bush said.
The bill would have imposed spending limits on candidates for the House or Senate who agreed to accept public funds to match money raised from private sources.