Cash Or Convictions?

Money has always been a factor in politics, but in recent years it's become virtually the whole ballgame, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer reports.

Politics used to be personal, and campaigning among the people was fairly cheap. But as television grew, campaigns moved out of the community and onto TV screens. Making commercials is expensive, and costs skyrocketed.

So when Elizabeth Dole raised only a $1 million over the last three months while George W. Bush was raising $20 million, friends and foes alike knew she couldn't last. "The money just was not there," explains Representative Tillie Fowler, R-Fla.

Republican John McCain, who has made campaign reform the core of his presidential campaign, calls the influence of money disgraceful. "John Kasich, Dan Quayle, Lamar Alexander, and now Elizabeth Dole -- they've all left the presidential campaign before a single ballot was cast," he notes. "Why? Because they didn't have sufficient money."

Even the Democratic president -- who, incidentally, was out raising money for his party again Tuesday night -- professed sympathy.

"I regret that the fact that finances alone kept her from going through the first few primaries," President Clinton said.

Current law limits contributions to candidates to $1,000, but front-runner Bush has already raised nearly $60 million. And that astounding number is chicken feed compared to the quarter of a billion dollars expected to flow to the parties themselves, which are bound by no limits on giving.

McCain, who favors closing the legal loophole that allows these "soft money" contributions, sees an eventual end to it all. He says, "There'll be more money and more scandals, and those scandals will eventually grow to the point where the American people demand that we clean it up."

But not yet. For the fourth time Tuesday, Senate Republican leaders blocked a vote on McCain's reforms, even though a majority in both the House and Senate now favors them.

Supporters of the legislation were unable to break a Republican filibuster and bring the legislation to a vote, reports CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick.

"I'd call it pretty...pretty dead," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the chief foe of the legislation.

The killer is always soft money. It flows at fancy dinners held by both parties and out of the pockets of donors like Chinese businessmen - or from President Clinton selling sleepovers in the Lincoln bedroom.

Mr. Clinton once explained to a group of donors how to get around the caps on contributions to individual candidates in this way: "We could run these ads through the Democratic Party, which meant we could raise money in $20-, $50- and $100,000 blocks."

A new study shows national parties raised almost $250,000,000 in soft money for last year's election - but that's nothing compared to a presidential year. It's no surprise then that this contetious Congress is making sure the money keeps rolling in.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report