Dollars vs. democracy

America's political system should be a primary guardian - and expression - of the values described above. This role is threatened by a massive new impact of money on politics that has drawn growing demands for reform. These have come from politicians of both parties as well as public interest groups and the press. Just this week the Supreme Court stepped in with a ruling to check opportunities for corruption by reaffirming legal limits on the sources of funds for corporate interest groups involved in political campaigns.

Pending legislation would go farther, putting ceilings on what a candidate could accept from all PACs (political action committees). Republican Jim Leach of Iowa would prefer to eliminate PAC money entirely. He says that ''we ought to return to the notion of an individual democracy with the emphasis on individual rights rather than group expressions of power.''

Perhaps it will take something as clear-cut as this to reduce the influence of money on elected officials. Ironically, this appears to be more pervasive than in the days before all the campaign laws of recent years.

These laws can be used or misused to make a mockery of their supposed controls, as Washington reporter Elizabeth Drew spells out in an exhaustive two-part article in the New Yorker. She finds the current political role of money different in scope and nature from anything before:

''The acquisition of campaign funds has become an obsession on the part of nearly every candidate for federal office. The obsession leads candidates to solicit and accept money from those most able to provide it, and to adjust their behavior in office to the need for money - and the fear that a challenger might be able to obtain more.''

Raising money has always been part of a politician's challenge. But it must not be allowed to skew the whole political process as it is doing now. Until effective laws are devised and enforced - a big until! - candidates and their supporters will have to exercise their highest individual values in order to preserve those of the nation.

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