ATLANTA (AP) – President Bush collected $2.6 million for Republican Senate candidates in two states yesterday, hours after signing a campaign finance bill that will restrict political fund raising. “I’m not going to lay down my arms,” Bush said.

Paul Wong
President Bush appears in Atlanta, Ga., helping to raise $1.5 million for Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) who is trying to oust Democratic Sen. Max Cleland. (AP PHOTO)

The ink on Bush’s signature was barely dry when he flew to South Carolina to raise $1.1 million for Rep. Lindsey Graham, who is seeking the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Strom Thurmond.

“The Senate races are very important for me, I want Republicans to take control of the Senate, I want (Republican Rep.) Denny Hastert to be speaker of the House,” Bush said. “These are the rules, that’s why I’m going to campaign for like-minded people.”

The bill will “make American politics more palatable,” said Graham, who voted in favor of the legislation and was a vocal supporter of Bush’s 2000 GOP rival, Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.) – the most visible sponsor of campaign-finance legislation. “A lot of people feel that money corrupts the system,” Graham said. “People feel like they’ll have a better voice.”

The president then flew to Atlanta to raise an additional $1.5 million for Rep. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who is trying to oust Democratic Sen. Max Cleland. It was the 13th fund-raiser of the year for Bush.

“Saxby Chambliss needs to be in the United States Senate,” Bush said. “He loves his family, he loves his country, he’s a man of enormous experience.”

In his two speeches to donors, Bush did not mention the new campaign finance law.

Democrats are aggressively raising money, too, and Bush has said he would not stop “unilaterally.” Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was in South Carolina on Monday for a breakfast fund-raiser benefiting Alex Sanders, the Democrat facing Graham.

Today, Bush is heading to Texas to raise at least $1.2 million for Texas Attorney General John Cornyn’s bid for Senate, bringing his two-day total to a minimum of $3.8 million. The president was spending a long Easter weekend on his Texas ranch.

Yesterday’s events raised $250,000 for South Carolina Republicans and $250,000 for Georgia Republicans.

Under new law, some of that “party money” probably will be prohibited. At the same time, he will be permitted to raise twice as much in “hard money” – donations by individuals for candidates themselves – because the legislation raises limits from $1,000 to $2,000.

Bush was never an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation known as McCain-Feingold, and renewed his reservations yesterday.

He said he was concerned about whether the law will violate the Constitution’s free speech protections. The White House was noncommittal about whether it will have a role in lawsuits that opponents immediately filed.

Bush said he wanted a bill that would have shielded union members and corporate shareholders from seeing their dues or profits channeled to political causes involuntarily.

But, he said, on balance the law will improve the campaign finance system.

“I wouldn’t have signed it if I was really unhappy with it,” Bush told reporters as he met with emergency and rescue workers at a Greenville, S.C., fire station.

Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and some staff members were in the Oval Office when Bush signed the legislation.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer explained the low-key signing: “To hold a giant South Lawn ceremony would not have the air of consistency, so the president conducted the signing in a ceremony that was befitting for his beliefs on the bill in its totality,” he said.

Ranit Schmelzer, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said it was a “stealth signing.”

In both South Carolina and Georgia, Bush promoted his budget proposal to spend $140 million next year to help small communities coordinate in responding to domestic terrorism.

“We understand we’ve got to have a strategy for rural South Carolina and rural America as well,” Bush told the rescue workers.

In Atlanta, Bush watched as workers in hazardous-materials suits responded to a mock chlorine gas attack.

The rescuers stripped one man of most of his clothes and slid him through a decontamination shower as he lay in a stretcher.

“That goes beyond the call of duty to impress the president,” Bush quipped. “Better you than me.”

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