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Jewish World Review March 14, 2001 / 19 Adar, 5761

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Consumer Reports

Soft money, hard reform -- SHOULD President Bush jump onto the bandwagon for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill?

Dems like to claim campaign finance reform as their issue. After all the white sales on pardons, sleep-overs, and coffees for millionaires at the Clinton White House, they still indignantly proclaim that Republicans are on the side of Big Money. And Republicans? Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., in San Francisco to promote the bill with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., observed that Team Bush hasn't said yes to the bill -- dubbed McFein 2001 by Sacramento election attorney Allison Hayward -- but it hasn't said no.

Of course, Republicans tend to get cranky about campaign finance reform after enduring eight years of Democrats' claiming to be more holy on campaign money because the Dems wanted to change the laws they were skirting. The Dems gave campaign finance reform a bad name.

So it came as no surprise that the New York Times reported Team Bush is been warming to a bill by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that would cap soft money donations at $60,000. (McFein 2001 is a tougher bill in that it would end soft money by outlawing contributions from corporations and labor unions for election activities. It would also limit soft money contributions to national party organizations from individuals and political action committees. A proposed Snowe-Jeffords amendment would allow independent groups to air campaign ads within 60 days of an election only if funded by donations under other limits.)

Bush might as well side with the measure that looks the toughest and has the most name I.D. Here is why.

1. "It's been a free votes for years," said Don McGahn, counsel of the National Republican Congressional Committee, of the procedural votes donation-hungry Dems knew they could support without repercussion because the Republican leadership opposed the bill. Make McFein passage a real possibility, and voters will see just how sincere many righteous Dems are not.

The AFL-CIO already has bolted. The new national pastime could be guessing who would be the next Dem to have a religious moment and announce they've seen the hard-money light. According to Time magazine, it could be Sen. Bob Torricelli, D-N.J., or the Senate's Louisianans, John Breaux and Mary Landrieu.

2. Republicans look stupid calling soft money a First Amendment issue. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but it's a rich person's problem. Anyway, that's what Washington pays the Supreme Court to decide.

3. Besides, if the Big Bench overturns McFein 2001 -- and it seems likely it at least will overturn limits on independent expenditures -- Bush gets the brownie points for wanting to do the right thing. (In this country, it is better to look as if you want to reform than to reform.)

4. If the Supreme Court keeps McFein largely intact, there will be fewer six-figure gifts to GOP groups, and fewer reasons for Republicans to support bad corporate welfare programs. The party would look independent and GOP senators might bask in the respect that Feingold, who eschewed soft money in a tough re-election bid, enjoys.

5. Bush once again would show him self to be taller than the big hack who preceded him. "The soft money that went to the president and the DNC for the pardons," McCain quipped, "that's bribery. We practice extortion."

Ha. It's a joke everyone gets -- except most other politicians.

Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate