Reform Down, Not Out

The leaders of the US Senate last week successfully maintained the campaign-funding status quo. If they prevail this year, dollars will flow through the "soft money" loophole as usual, advocacy ads will continue to offer a ready back door for political expenditures, and the disclosure of contributors will be as lax as ever.

Is this any way to run the world's premier democracy?

Senator majority leader Trent Lott clearly sees no problem with it. He, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and other Republicans closed ranks to ensure that reformers would once again fall short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and get their bill to the floor.

Still, 51 senators, including seven Republicans, voted to close off debate, indicating that a senatorial majority exists for reform.

The forces of assured incumbency and unlimited money-grubbing won this time in the Senate. But the contest will be renewed in the House this month. And there the prospects of passing some degree of reform - at the least a soft-money ban - are somewhat brighter. The parliamentary hurdles are lower, and a merging of moderate, "blue dog" Democrats and reform-minded Republicans could provide the numbers.

Reform is also alive on the administrative front. The Federal Elections Commission is pushing for changes, including a clarification of what constitutes "coordinated" spending between private organizations and parties. President Clinton has urged the FEC to impose an administrative ban on soft money.

If the House is able to move a reform package - and Speaker Gingrich has promised a floor vote - the Senate might be nudged to reconsider.

American voters want a less corruption-prone system. They should hold Congress accountable.

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