The following editorial appeared in Monday's Los Angeles Times:
There should be a single focus as the U.S. Senate on Monday begins an expected two weeks of debate on campaign finance reform: to abolish the unlimited amounts of money that now corrupt the American electoral system. The way to do that is to pass the major bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell D. Feingold, D-Wis.
President Bush has suddenly muddied debate waters by offering his own parameters for reform, appearing to be in sympathy with a competing bill sponsored by Sen. Charles Hagel, R-Neb. And some Democrats who supported McCain-Feingold might be getting cold feet about finance reform.
During his bitter primary campaign battle with McCain, Bush was forced to endorse the concept of campaign finance reform, but the conditions he outlined last week differ markedly from theMcCain-Feingold approach. Bush proposes that unlimited "soft money" contributions by organized labor and business be prohibited, but not those of individuals. Not unexpectedly, he urges that unions be required to get their members' permission before contributing to election campaigns. This is a longtime demand of Republican conservatives. But in a twist, Bush also says businesses should have to get the consent of their shareholders before they could contribute to campaigns.
The idea of getting corporate shareholders' consent usually is a Democratic counter to the GOP's demand on unions. In fact, the requirement is unwieldy and unrealistic for either side. And such a rule wouldn't matter much anyway if all soft money were banned, as McCain-Feingold calls for, because both business' and labor's ability to flood the two parties with money would be severely restricted.
Existing campaign finance law limits contributions to campaigns to $1,000 per person. Unlimited amounts can be donated to party committees, ostensibly for party-building activities such as voter registration and drives to get out the vote; this is what is known as soft money. But loopholes in the law have allowed such money to be spent directly in support of candidate campaigns.
As the debate neared, some Senate Democrats began to question the need for a full soft-money ban, perhaps because in the 2000 election Democrats finally matched Republicans in raising soft money, at more than $240 million each. But they needn't worry that passing McCain-Feingold would benefit Republicans more than Democrats. With Bill Clinton gone from the White House, the GOP mastery of big fund raising is expected to resume.
What the senators need to do is ignore these distractions and diversions and do what they know they must do: pass the McCain-Feingold bill and finally do away with the corruption of soft money in politics.
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