Soft Money Bonanza

The Democratic and Republican parties have raised almost twice as much unregulated "soft money" for the 2000 elections as they raised four years ago, the Federal Election Commission reported Monday.

The GOP took in $86.4 million in soft money - contributions from unions, corporations and individuals not subject to federal election laws - between Jan. 1, 1999 and March 31, 2000. That's a 93 percent increase over the $44.7 million raised by the Republicans during the same period in 1995-96, the last presidential election season.

Democratic committees, meanwhile, raised $77 million during the first 15 months of the 1999-2000 election cycle, up 94 percent from the $39.7 million the party raised during the same period in 1995-96.

Soft money has become an issue in this presidential election year, with two losing primary candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, making campaign promises to ban such donations.

The presumed Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore, also has called for a soft money ban. His opponent, Republican George W. Bush, has proposed banning soft money from unions and corporations, but not the millions of dollars in individual contributions.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which boosted its soft money donations from $3.4 million in 1995-96 to $21.9 million in 1999-2000, is to add to its totals Monday night at a fund-raiser in honor of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. The top ticket for the event, expected to raise $2.5 million, is $100,000.

Six-figure donors not only get invitations to the dinner, but to a private reception and luncheon with the lawmaker who will chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee if Democrats recapture the House.