Bill Bradley and John McCain have strategic reasons for joining forces to highlight campaign finance reform. Both can draw favorable contrasts to their parties' front-runners. And both can stand under the halo of bipartisanship, winning over independent voters.
But strategy aside, the main value of the Bradley-McCain exercise is to highlight the ever-increasing flow of money into political campaigns that threatens to rust the body politic with corrosive cynicism. Politicians who take money to buy TV ads only make themselves vulnerable later as elected leaders to their donors' demands for official favors. That potential for subtle corruption was why, many decades ago, Congress banned direct donations by corporations to federal campaigns. Later, labor-union political contributions were similarly restricted.
But the loophole today is "soft money," which can go to party organizations and then, not surprisingly, be used to boost candidates.
Candidates Bradley and McCain now pledge to forgo soft money if they're the presidential nominees. That's an admirable, if highly hypothetical commitment. What their handshake in New Hampshire means, we hope, is that they'll keep this issue before the public.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society