Hooray for the House

The bipartisan reform coalition shepherding far-reaching campaign finance reform legislation through the House of Representatives deserves Americans' thanks. Headed by Reps. Christopher Shays (R) and Marty Meehan (D), the coalition cleared a major hurdle last week, winning a strong majority for its bill on the House floor.

If this success can reawaken the issue in the Senate, the country may yet see an end to the soft-money gusher that has engulfed American electoral politics. That money flows freely into party coffers, ostensibly for "party-building," and from there into whatever races the parties target. Millions go to key congressional races, and in a presidential year - well, we all know the ugly, money-grubbing precedent set in 1996.

That "if" regarding the Senate looms large. While a narrow majority of senators, as tallied earlier this year, favors the reform, opponents are determined, and the Senate's rules give them a strong tactical edge.

As in the House, opposition centers in the Republican leadership. It argues that a soft-money ban is unconstitutional, because it limits political speech. Not so. It simply enforces the legal limits on individual contributions and a long-standing prohibition on direct corporate and union donations to candidates. Such limits have been made virtual dead letters by the soft-money loophole in current law.

The personal courage and public support manifest in the House's action should nudge additional senators to reconsider their opposition to campaign finance reform. And voters should look favorably on those members of Congress who back reform. The 51 House Republicans who broke with their leadership on this issue get special recognition. One of their number, Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, hit the nail squarely when he proclaimed, "The truth is this bill is fair to Republicans and Democrats."

It's also fair to the American people, giving them cause for renewed faith in their political system.

Consider:

* The bill passed by the House prohibits national or state party organizations from soliciting or using soft money, closing the loophole.

* It significantly increases the amount an individual can contribute to parties and campaigns.

* It restricts so-called "issue advertising" by nonparty groups during the 60 days just before an election, if these ads refer clearly to a federal candidate.

* It requires quicker disclosure of donors by parties and election campaign committees.

In sum, more-transparent, forthright fund-raising and campaigning - and less opportunity for deep-pocketed special interests to buy influence.

Hooray for the House!

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