The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:
Al Gore is right that he is an ''imperfect messenger for (the) cause'' of campaign finance reform. His pledge this week to make reform the first order of business if elected and to fight as long and hard as necessary to pass a bill is nonetheless important. He could wriggle out of it, make a show of trying, then go on to other, easier fish he will have to fry. That's basically what Bill Clinton has done.
But Monday's speech leaves him less room to do so. He would pay a heavy price if he walked away. And if he didn't walk . . . who knows? We yield to none in our pessimism about the prospects for accomplishing meaningful reform. For 15 years, whenever there has been a risk of enactment, one party or the other has slithered away. But never in that period has there been a president who genuinely tried to achieve a bill. In that sense there have never been real negotiations of the kind that commonly occur and are required to produce major legislation. The maneuvering on behalf of campaign finance reform has consisted mostly of trying to pass a bill over the objections of those with legislative power, or despite their indifference and without their help.
The House even so has passed a modest bill to ban soft money in each of the past two Congresses, a tribute to the pulling power of the issue since it had to be done over the opposition of the Republican leadership and through the threat of a discharge petition -- a device whereby in extraordinary circumstances a majority of the membership can take command of the floor. The bills have had bipartisan and majority support in the Senate as well but have been blocked by the leadership; the leadership has been put in the anomalous position of having to filibuster to thwart majority will. Could a determined president find the keys to a decent bill in a situation such as that? Maybe.
The McCain-Feingold bill, which the vice president embraced this week, is itself imperfect, a part-way measure only. It would ban the use of the parties to raise and spend, on behalf of their candidates, so-called soft money that the candidates are forbidden to raise and spend themselves. The soft-money system is the most egregious of the current abuses of the law, but hardly the only one. At best, McCain-Feingold would put a little more distance between the money-givers and the candidates.
The idea is not to eliminate but to moderate the role of money in elections.
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