WASHINGTON -- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, taking a clear shot at one of his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, said yesterday that he would work to overturn the McCain-Feingold law limiting political contributions to candidates, if he were elected president.
Romney's remarks, made at a conference where GOP contenders competed to be the most genuinely conservative candidate in the room, underscored the former governor's sensitivity to allegations that he has flip-flopped on matters important to social conservatives, such as abortion and gay rights.
Senator John McCain of Arizona is also viewed skeptically by some conservatives, and many are angry at his authorship of a law that limits their financial input in elections.
Supporters of McCain-Feingold "let the campaign finance lobby take away First Amendment rights" by banning unlimited donations by corporations, labor unions, and interest groups, Romney told a packed audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference yesterday.
Romney also derided what he called the "McCain-Kennedy bill."
He said the immigration measure being worked on by McCain and Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts would allow "amnesty" for illegal immigrants .
McCain did not speak at the conference, but spokesman Danny Diaz responded that "Senator McCain is committed to fighting the negative influence of special interest money in Washington, D.C."
The barbs came as six Republican candidates sought to win over an unhappy group of conservative activists who believe the current contenders are too willing to raise taxes or insufficiently moderate on social issues.
Romney was lampooned by a man who dressed as a dolphin and called himself "Flip" Romney to suggest the former governor had flip-flopped on issues.
At the meeting -- which Mike Huckabee , former governor of Arkansas , described as the "Conservative Presidential Anxiety Conference" -- Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas peddled himself as "A Conservative You Can Trust," while other contenders bragged about their tight fiscal policies and opposition to gay marriage.
Rudolph Giuliani , a former mayor of New York who has perhaps the least conservative views on social issues among the group, acknowledged that he is not in lock step with the conservative wing of the party but added that it shouldn't stop them from supporting him.
"We don't agree on everything. I don't agree with myself on everything," Giuliani told a crowd. "As Ronald Reagan used to say, my 80 percent ally is not my 20 percent enemy," Giuliani said .
Representative Tom Tancredo , a Colorado Republican who is one of the strongest anti-immigrant voices in Congress, suggested that some of his opponents might not be sincere in their conservative rhetoric.
"Conversions are supposed to be made on the road to Damascus, not the road to Des Moines," he said, drawing cheers and laughter .