Reform Campaign Finance Now

NOT far from my home in Washington State sits volatile Mount St. Helens. Sixteen years ago, it started rumbling. Geologists warned that the immense pressure building under the dome of the mountain would result in a devastating explosion.

Reluctant to leave their comfortable homes around Mount St. Helen's Spirit Lake, locals like legendary resort owner Harry Truman refused to move even as the mountain blew steam clouds thousands of feet into the air. Thousands of metric tons of ash and rocks buried the area.

As I listened recently to House Speaker Newt Gingrich tell the House Oversight Committee we could wait a little longer to address campaign-finance reform, I remembered Harry Truman. The steam under America's dome is building - and it's about to explode. Voters issued warnings and shook the ground in 1992 and 1994 and so far, Congress has made promises, but hasn't delivered.

There have been frequent reassurances from leaders of both parties for years and they've offered the perennial proposals that have been immediately assigned a slow death in committee, but with few results. I agree with Mr. Gingrich that our political system as a whole needs careful scrutiny and reform. But there are many points that don't need a minute's more study.

The influence of political-action committees (PACs) and their deep pockets presents a clear and present danger to our democracy. Every check written by a PAC puts one more brick in the wall between Americans and their voice in Washington. PACs cannot remain a fund-raising vehicle for candidates if we are to regain Americans' trust.

The Speaker understands this. Last year he told the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, ''It seems to me that political action committees have grown to be instruments that no longer serve the public interest. They serve special interests.'' Now it doesn't take a commission or a study to figure this out. It's common sense and something the majority of Americans agree on.

Likewise, most people agree candidates should finance the bulk of their campaigns from the people they represent in their state. And even then, most believe that the wealthiest contributors shouldn't be able to significantly overshadow ''the widow's mite.''

Two proposals have gained rare bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. The Senate bill, S 1219, sponsored by Senators McCain, Feingold, and Thompson and the House bill, HR 2566, sponsored by me and Congressmen Meehan and Shays, give us strong vehicles to get the job done now.

Both proposals ban PAC contributions, limit individual contributions, and require that most money comes from a candidate's state. Both call for voluntary spending limits in exchange for reduced postal and TV advertising rates. They are endorsed by national reform groups like Common Cause, The League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, and United We Stand America. These attest to the needlessness of more study and more commissions.

The 104th Congress has been one of action. It has passed historic reforms at a record-breaking pace. Whether or not you agree with the decisions being made, you must agree its members are working very hard to keep the promises made last year to Americans. It would be a mistake for congressional leaders to skirt the critical issue of campaign-finance and lobby reforms. Americans sent this Congress marching orders to be different. Voters need to remind Congress that the orders remain and that time is growing short before they let off more steam in the next election.

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