Campaign finance reform worth trying

Posted: Friday, September 29, 2000

The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:

Proposals to contain the corrupting influence of campaign money have a way of surfacing when politicians see advantage in them, and then fading before anything gets done. Bill Clinton loved to grandstand on the issue, even as he stopped at nothing to fill his campaign coffers and never put serious pressure on Congress to pass a reform bill. Al Gore called for campaign finance overhaul back in March, hoping to woo the independents who had flocked to Sen. John McCain in the primaries.

Now he invites Gov. George W. Bush to accept a pact not to buy ads with unregulated soft money. Again, the opportunism is transparent: The Republicans have a big advantage in soft money, while an end to soft-money ads would expand the influence of hard money, in which Gore enjoys an advantage. Nor would a soft-money ban affect Gore's advantage in volunteers furnished by organized labor.

But questionable motives do not entirely erase the value of Gore's pronouncements. In March he committed to making passage of the McCain-Feingold ban on soft money his first priority as president. He would pay a price if he backed away from that promise.

Gore's latest proposal shows at a minimum that a candidate who has himself raised millions in soft money understands that the process is unseemly and that voters would be happier if the whole racket were shut down. Under Gore's proposal, soft money would continue to be spent on "get-out-the-vote" and other activities. But at least there would be no more ads paid for by donors who contribute unlimited sums to party coffers and expect access in return.

When Republican Rep. Rick Lazio proposed a similar pact in the New York Senate campaign, Hillary Clinton felt compelled to accept it, despite her advantage in soft money. Bush should do the same. His campaign protests that it can't trust Gore to stick by a voluntary agreement. But if Democratic ads started appearing in violation of a pact, they would be discovered pretty soon.Bush ought to accept the challenge or concede that Gore has the better claim to support from campaign reformers than he does, however objectionable the fundraising in which Gore has been and remains engaged.

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