The last time it came up for debate, the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill managed to muster a slight majority of US senators. But the votes were not there to cut off a filibuster and actually bring the measure to a vote on the Senate floor. So it failed.
This year things could be different. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, after his vigorous primary challenge to George W. Bush, can claim fresh popular impetus behind his bill. He and his co-author, Sen. Russell Feingold (D) of Minnesota, can count on solid support from a strengthened Democratic block in the Senate - now exactly half the 50 members. They can also be pretty sure of up to eight GOP votes, which brings the reformers tantalizingly close to the 60 senators needed to quash a filibuster.
Perhaps most important, they have fresh evidence of the need to ban the unregulated "soft" dollars that make a mockery of laws designed to limit the flow into politics of money from businesses, unions, and other special interests. During campaign 2000, the parties surpassed all previous fundraising records, amassing nearly half a billion dollars in soft money.
A key unknown is whether the new president will live up to his slogan as "a reformer with results" by backing campaign-finance changes. During the campaign, George W. Bush endorsed a very limited soft-money ban that still would allow major flows of cash through state-party organizations. He needs to move a lot closer to the McCain-Feingold approach.
This issue will be a key test of Mr. Bush's commitment to bipartisanship. It requires defying the GOP's congressional leadership, but few acts could do more to convince people this is a president who thinks for himself.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society