Democrat Scott Leckman has challenged his opponent, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, to a spending limit of $500,000 for the rest of the 1998 campaign.

Bennett's campaign has declined to accept the challenge.At a Tuesday press conference, Leckman said he believes such an agreement would mean Utahns would have a chance to make a political decision without being influenced by excessive spending.

"In Utah, we can see the influence of money in politics. Of the last five candidates to win federal office in Utah, four, including Bob Bennett have bought their elections," Leckman said.

Bennett's campaign office was not surprised by the challenge and has no intention of accepting it.

"We are not going to submit to any sort of arbitrary spending limits," Greg Hopkins, Bennett's campaign manager, said.

He stressed that while Bennett doesn't anticipate spending more than half a million dollars between now and November, it's silly to accept such a challenge.

"We are going to do what we have to do to win," Hopkins said.

Leckman said Bennett spent $3.2 million in the 1992 U.S. Senate race. He said Bennett has spent $2.3 million since Jan. 1, 1993, on his 1998 campaign - including $626,000 of his own money.

Hopkins said those figures seem accurate but said Bennett isn't spending personal money on campaigning anymore. The senator, he said, now has a wide base of outside contributions.

Hopkins said Leckman's spending-limit challenge is a classic tactic by an underfunded candidate. He said that historically, no candidate ever agrees to such a challenge either.

Bennett's campaign manager also refuted Leckman's charge that the senator bought his way to Congress. He pointed out that Joe Cannon outspent Bennett 3-to-1 in campaigning unsuccessfully for the GOP primary in the 1992 Senate race.

"Joe would have won," Hopkins said, if Leckman's principle of money always wins is really true - which it isn't.

Leckman still maintains that spending millions of dollars on a campaign is excessive.

"I just don't understand where all of this money has gone. I can think of a lot better things to do with $2.3 million."

Leckman also sees himself as an outspoken critic of campaign financing.

"I'll be a leader for campaign finance reform in the next U.S. Senate," he promised.