Money Out of the House

Nuclear physicist Edward Teller has some useful advice for the tentative US House of Representatives as it once again takes up campaign finance reform: "When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly."

It's time for members of the House to take the step of deciding that getting excessive money out of politics won't be nearly as politically explosive as they might think. In fact, it will be a big step forward in improving the way money is raised for elections and enhancing public trust in the system.

Rep. Chris Shays (R) of Connecticut and fellow campaign finance reform advocate Rep. Marty Meehan (D) of Massachusetts have been promised by House Speaker Dennis Hastert that their bill will be debated on the floor just after the July 4 recess. A version of the bill has passed the House twice before, and enjoys the fervent support of longtime campaign finance reform champion Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona.

Unfortunately, more slippery maneuvering is expected. And it's coming after the Senate voted 59 to 41 to pass a meaningful campaign finance bill 10 weeks ago, an event that raises the possibility of some House members wobbling in their commitment now that reforms could actually become law. And, as Mr. Shays indicated this week, recruiting campaign reformers from a freshman group "that has no innocence" when it comes to the influence of money in politics as they watch their respective leaderships throw big bucks toward targeted races, won't be easy.

Still, the country deserves the same kind of rigorous debate Americans saw in the Senate over the issue. Mr. Meehan says that debate will focus on the correlation between failure to pass legislation and big-money influence. That should help reengage a public that polls show doesn't much care about campaign finance reform, but certainly feels strongly about the dangers of corruption in government.

Shays calls campaign finance "a system in meltdown." The prospect of greater independence from well-heeled donors should prompt lawmakers to do the right thing and pass Shays/Meehan without altering it beyond reasonable recognition.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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