For the second year in a row, supporters of campaign-finance reform overcame entrenched opposition and gained House approval of their bill Tuesday night.
After Republican leaders' attempts to block the proposal last year backfired, this time they wisely agreed to let it come to the floor. There they tried to kill it with "poison pill" amendments; the House rejected them all.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R) of Connecticut and Martin Meehan (D) of Massachusetts, would ban "soft money" - unregulated and unlimited contributions from corporations, unions, and the wealthy to political parties.
It would also seek to regulate issue ads paid for by interest groups in a campaign. Any broadcast advertising run 60 days before an election that uses a candidate's name or likeness could only be paid for using "hard money" - limited contributions that fall under federal regulation - regardless of who sponsors the ad.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where supporters hope to avoid last year's failure to get the 60 votes needed to end an opposition filibuster. With all Democrats and seven or so Republicans supporting the measure, the Senate's reform leaders, John McCain (R) of Arizona and Russell Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, face a dilemma: They've got to find a way to bring more Republicans on board without antagonizing the Democrats.
The strategy they've settled on is to jettison the restrictions on issue ads - which may be constitutionally questionable, given a whole series of court decisions - and focus on banning soft money, the reform that the public wants most. The question is whether they can pick up enough Republicans by doing so to make up for the Democrats who will desert if they do.
Supporters have a fairer set of rules this time, however. Senators will be able to offer amendments on the floor, which could strengthen support for the bill.
It's time to take big money out of political campaigns. When the bill comes up in early October, the Senate should at least pass a soft-money ban, and if that's all it can do, the House should go along.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society