All for Naught? No!

The leadership in both Senate and House have given a little ground on campaign finance reform. Promises have been made to allow debate on reform bills early next session, probably in March. There may even be a telling up-or-down vote on meaningful reform (i.e., the banning of so-called "soft money").

Opponents of reform may still use the filibuster or other procedural weapon to turn back an assault on the loophole-ridden campaign finance structure. But the mere fact the issue survives, and could revive next year, shows that the investigative energy of the last few months has not been in vain. Political steam is building on this issue. With 1998's elections nearing, more lawmakers may decide it's time to switch to the reformers' corner.

So Sen. Fred Thompson (R) of Tennessee should be proud. He failed to prove his initial charges that favor-seeking foreigners have shanghaied the US electoral system. But he still accomplished something with his Governmental Affairs Committee hearings. Americans with even one ear to the news couldn't help but learn something about their leaders' headlong chase for money - and about the myriad special interests eager to shell out in hopes of buying "access," the current euphemism for influence.

And investigative energies are far from spent. Mr. Thompson's show may be winding down. But Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana is revving up hearings in the House, and the Justice Department's probes are ongoing. Attorney General Janet Reno will soon have to decide whether to do the right thing (as we see it) and appoint an independent counsel.

There's hope America's electoral machinery may yet get the thorough overhaul it periodically needs.

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