THREE OF THE FIVE mayoral candidates yesterday criticized City Councilman Jim Kenney's proposal to suspend the city's new campaign contribution limits.

Former Councilman Michael Nutter, state Rep. Dwight Evans and the millionaire who prompted the bill - Tom Knox - all called on City Council to reject the measure.

Nutter said the bill was an effort by Kenney to help U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who just entered the race and has nowhere near Knox's money.

"Limits and self-funded candidates have existed for some time in other cities," said Nutter. "We're either for reform or not for reform."

A spokeswoman for Brady, also the city Democratic Party chairman, said he supports the bill. U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah refused to comment.

Kenney's bill, which he introduced yesterday, would permit unlimited contributions in a mayoral race if any candidate spends $2 million of his own cash. Knox has already spent that much.

Kenney denied he was acting on behalf of Brady, saying he was motivated by a Daily News/Keystone poll this week that showed Knox - who has put $5 million in his account and is prepared to spend much more - in second place.

"I am fearful that what we have done in an effort to reform is we have an unexpected result of allowing one person who is wealthy to [buy the race]," said Kenney.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that candidates cannot be restricted from spending their own money.

Kenney said he expected a speedy review of his bill, but wasn't sure how much backing it had. Mayor Street yesterday indicated he would likely support it.

"I guess I understand and I'm inclined to be supportive of his amendment, subject to how it all plays out," the mayor said.

The watchdog group Committee of Seventy yesterday sent letters to all the candidates asking them to call on Council to reject the bill.

"I think it violates the spirit of reform that's been loose in the city," said Seventy CEO Zack Stalberg.

Evans obviously agreed, sending a letter to Council members asking them to reject the measure.

Evans suggested that Council consider increasing the caps - currently set at $5,000 from individuals and $20,000 from political action committees in a calender year - rather than removing them if a candidate spends large sums of personal cash.

Knox's spokeswoman Susan Madrak said he also opposed the bill.

"Tom's the candidate of real change in this race, and the people who've learned to work the system are more worried about protecting their interests than they are in meaningful reform for the city," she said.

Brady's spokeswoman, Andi Pringle, criticized the city's contribution limits, passed in response to the pay-to-play scandal that hit the Street administration in 2003.

"City Council, in trying to reform campaign finance, got it wrong," said Pringle. "They went to patch one problem and left the system open to another one. It is Kenney's attempt at really trying to address a problem that wasn't covered in the initial campaign finance bill. So we support him."

Of the five Democratic candidates, Brady and Fattah were the least successful in raising money for their mayoral campaigns during 2006.

Brady held a single fundraiser in late December, collected money from just 139 donors and had $404,513 in his mayoral account at the end of the year. Fattah tapped just 146 donors and had $391,429 in his account.

Meanwhile, Nutter secured donations from more than 1,400 donors, ending the year with nearly $1.4 million. Evans had contributions from more than 1,300 people, giving him a year-end balance of $1.2 million.

Besides his own donations, Knox reported contributions from 345 individuals, totaling $333,475. *