The Senate's turn

Enough delay: Time for one last vote to curb soft money in political campaigns.

February 26, 2002

For almost a decade, Congress has debated legislation to curtail sharply the millions in unregulated "soft money" that corporations, unions and other interest groups shower on our political parties. The House has passed such bills three times, most recently on an impressive 240-189 vote Feb. 14. The Senate approved a very similar bill 59-41 last April.

The issue has been debated to death. The time for procedural wrangling, killer amendments and filibusters has long passed. It's time for the Senate to take up the reform bill, debate it one last time and, finally, vote to curb the corrupting influence of soft money.

In the late 1980s, the parties began using soft money to circumvent the limits on campaign contributions established after the Watergate scandal. But what began as a trickle is now a flood. In the 2000 election cycle, the parties raised $495 million in soft money, and the more than $150 million they raised last year shattered all records for a year without a federal election. And with reform now seeming imminent, both parties are squeezing big donors hard for a last-chance (we hope) soft-money bonanza.

These unregulated, big-money donations poison our entire political process as they create - at the least - the widespread impression that special interests exert undue influence over elected officials.

Opponents of reform suggest it would weaken the political parties, curtail freedom of speech and fall far short of preventing money from distorting our politics.

But political parties raise money and exert influence in many ways; taking them out of the business of soliciting soft money won't emasculate them. And while civil libertarians raise serious concerns about some aspects of the reform bills, money is not speech - and freedom of speech does not imply a freedom to use unlimited donations to exert political influence.

And the fact that banning soft money won't keep big money from playing a large role in politics or prevent clever operators from finding loopholes in future regulations is no reason to forsake needed reform now.

Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or delay overdue reforms one day longer.

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