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Outside Editorial: 208 and counting

Posted: Friday, September 07, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:

Since Congress' return this week, two more House members have signed the petition to force a vote on campaign finance reform, and a third has promised to do so. That means the petitioners now have 208 of the 218 supporters they need only 10 to go, and several times that many prospects, if past votes are any indication.

The additional signers were Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, the 16th Republican to buck the party leadership on the issue, and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., a Congressional Black Caucus member who had been holding back. The promise was from Richard Neal, D-Mass., who as a matter of principle has never in seven terms signed a so-called discharge petition to take control of the House floor away from the leadership, but says that because of the importance of the issue, "I'll be number 218" this time. Good for him.

Of the 19 Democrats who haven't signed, all but four have supported campaign finance reform bills or discharge petitions in the past. The past supporters include Rick Boucher, of Virginia, and Albert Wynn, of Maryland. The previous bills were almost identical to this year's leading measure. Among Republicans who haven't signed are 14 who listed themselves as cosponsors of this year's bill; they include such leading party moderates as Greg Ganske, of Iowa, and Sherwood Boehlert, of New York. Another 16 Republicans, including Virginia's Frank Wolf, supported the bill in prior incarnations. Are they now backing off?

About half the Democrats who haven't signed are black caucus members. The bill would outlaw the soft money system whereby the parties are used to raise and spend on behalf of their candidates funds the candidates are forbidden to raise and spend directly. Some black caucus members and other Democratic critics of the bill say their party can't afford the loss of soft money that it is the only way they can match the Republicans' greater resources. But new fundraising figures tell a different story. Common Cause reports that the parties together raised $99 million in soft money the first six months of this year. That's triple the amount they raised in the first six months of the 1997-98 cycle, and almost twice the amount they raised in the first six months of the last presidential cycle.

Only a third of this year's money went to the Democrats. The Republicans got the rest. The soft money system does the Democrats no favors. Nor is this money most of it given by donors who have in mind the interests of people such as most black caucus members represent. The soft money system is no mystery. It's an effort by those who can afford it to buy influence with those it helps elect. It's wrong; it deserves to be banned. The petition points the way.



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