The Clinton-Lazio Handshake

Even one finger in the soft-money dike is useful, and now we have two.

Candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio, running in the country's most intensely watched US Senate race, have agreed to block unrestricted "soft" campaign funds from their contest.

This is a welcome step, considering that this year's national election campaign will break all records in its accumulation of soft money from corporations, unions, and other politically interested sources.

But the New York pact will be easier proclaimed than accomplished.

Much of the money flowing into the Clinton-Lazio race has come from party organizations, the main soft-money conduit. The candidates can credibly cut off that source. But a lot is also flowing from independent groups or political committees that pay for so-called "issue ads."

These ads typically knock candidates for their stands on questions like abortion or environmental regulation - implying, of course, that you should vote for the other person.

Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Lazio have pledged to ask groups that back them to stop such ads. But it's up to the groups to comply. The candidates' agreement on soft money allows for response in kind if one side breaks this pledge. The flood could resume.

If, however, this agreement holds, it could be historic.

Pledges to reform campaign-finance practices and ban soft money have become something of a political leitmotif in recent years. Remember the famous handshake between Newt Gingrich and the other Clinton? But they've been short-lived and largely meaningless. The Lazio-Clinton deal could change that.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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