After the Handshake

CAMPAIGN finance reform and lobbying reform are issues that many politicians run from. That's why it was heartening, a few weeks ago, to see President Clinton and House Speaker Gingrich shake hands on forming a commission to come up with a reform plan.

Alas, we now see the president shaking his finger at the speaker, saying it's time to get moving, and Mr. Gingrich replying he never intended to rush into this.

Forming a commission is no way to rush into anything, usually. But if the commission is chartered to complete its work within six months, as the president has proposed, and has the guarantee of an up-or-down vote in Congress on its recommendations, it can make a positive contribution.

The obstacles facing reformers are illustrated by current action in the Senate and House. Sens. William Cohen (R) of Maine and Carl Levin (D) of Michigan have labored long for a ban on nearly all gifts from lobbyists to members of Congress, including the vacations and sports outings that create an image of coziness with high-rolling special interests. They'd also like to strengthen rules for disclosing who's lobbying whom. Their legislation ought to prevail, but it may be shoved aside for a watered-down version sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky.

In the House, Rep. Linda Smith (R) of Washington has introduced a bill to dismantle the whole political action committee structure. Her plan: limit contributions to congressional races to individuals and to party organizations within candidates' own states. That will likely hit a wall within Representative Smith's own party, which is now receiving business PAC money that flows to the party in power. Reform efforts such as these collide with a rock-hard status quo. A bipartisan, independent commission could outline a plan that might garner the public and political support to push through the obstacles.

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