The Next Big Campaign Reform

Congressman Christopher Shays and Marty Meehan deserve high fives for extraordinary diligence in securing yesterday's 240 to 189 vote in the House for a partial - repeat partial - reform of campaign-finance rules.

The bill, which would ban unregulated "soft" money from going to political parties, will likely pass the Senate (despite the threat of a filibuster) and receive President Bush's signature - or else Washington has learned nothing from the Enron affair.

Kudos also go to Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, who fought to pass an earlier and similar version of the bill last year.

But even more difficult hurdles have to be jumped to fully end the influence of money in Washington. Despite the House GOP leadership's cry that such measures will drain their campaign coffers, reformers need to build on this momentum and seek even tougher rules.

Example: Congress needs to put more teeth into the Federal Election Commission to enforce revised campaign laws. Otherwise, Shays/Meehan reform will be reform in name only; lawyers for both parties will keep looking for loopholes.

Also needed is a law requiring broadcasters to offer their "lowest unit rate" to candidates for advertising. That was taken out of Shays/Meehan at the last minute. Candidates should not have to pay the highest advertising rates.

Political action committees (PACS) had, and still have, a lot of influence. While original campaign-finance reform legislation sought to reduce the influence of special-interest PAC money (including corporations), the new bill does nothing to deal with PACS, whose strong influence on the "hard" money side will likely get even stronger.

Congress now should make efforts to reduce PAC limits to help them be more on par with individual hard money limits. Unfortunately, voters won't see reform from this latest bill for the coming elections. The parties can raise soft money up through Nov. 6, which will no doubt create a snowstorm of cash. But then that just proves the need for more reforms.

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