Campaign Reform Now

Congress has returned from recess to resume debate on an issue of great importance to Americans: How to reform the current "anything goes" campaign-finance system.

Revived controversy over foreign contributions to President Clinton's 1996 campaign, and the money wave mounting in the California primary and about to sweep the country by November, should impel real action in Washington. But too many lawmakers would still rather surf this wave than put up needed sea walls.

House members have before them a bill that could do the job admirably. Sponsored by Christopher Shays (R) of Connecticut and Marty Meehan (D) of Massachusetts, the bill would ban the "soft money" that flows unregulated into party coffers, restrict so-called "issue advocacy" ads by private groups that clearly boost specific candidates, and require strict disclosure of contributors.

Trouble is, Republican leaders in the House, intent on thwarting Shays-Meehan, have rigged a voting trap. Only the top vote-getter among a dozen pending campaign-finance options can be enacted. These options include such nice-sounding but toothless proposals as naming a commission to study the problem and recommend a solution.

The solution is to ban soft money. That curb on vast contributions from corporate, labor, and individual sources does not run afoul of the Constitution's protection of freedom of expression, as opponents claim. The Supreme Court has recognized a need to defend society against money-driven political corruption. Now for a few more staunch defenders in Congress.

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