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Published: Wednesday, 1/31/2001

McCain's crusade

Sen. John McCain and his signature crusade for campaign finance reform was a pain in the New Hampshire primary for George W. Bush. Now the newly inaugurated President and his allies would like nothing better than to keep the obdurate Arizona Republican on a short leash, but he's having nothing of it. Nor should he.

The McCain drive for accountability in campaign spending is too important to be shoved aside for partisan peace. President Bush as well as the party leadership on Capitol Hill remain firmly opposed to key provisions in the McCain campaign finance reform legislation, co-authored by Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold.

It would completely ban the unregulated and unlimited donations, known as soft money, heaped on political parties known as soft money. Both major party committees broke records in 2000 for raising and spending soft money, $244.4 million for the GOP and $243.1 million for the Democrats.

Fund-raising letters are in the mail now for the 2002 elections and no doubt money strategists are already preparing for the next presidential challenge.

The obscene amounts of donations pouring into political campaigns by special interest groups seeking to influence their outcomes is seriously weakening our democracy. When money talks and politicians walk, where does that leave the rest of the country?

The ordinary citizen simply doesn't have the ways and means of powerful lobbyists to promote issues of concern on Main Street, and eventually the government becomes less representative of his interests and more in line with those of special interests.

Candidate McCain hit a resonant chord with many in mainstream America when he pledged to wrest the nation from the grips of the unscrupulous money changers in Washington and restore it to a government of, by, and for the people. But his has not been an easy cause to promote from within a political system that thrives on the status quo.

Twice the McCain-Feingold measure has passed the House and twice it has died in Senate filibusters. The majority party has successfully fought any restraint on its fund-raising as a violation of free speech guarantees. But it is a hollow argument that claims huge sums of money funneled into political parties to effectively buy the desired campaign results can somehow be considered protected speech.

Top Republicans from President Bush on down will surely try to block or stall or water down the mighty mission John McCain has made his own. But this time, the senator has vowed to win, to pass substantial campaign finance reform, to break a Senate filibuster with the necessary votes, and to pressure a reluctant President to heed the voice of the people by signing the bill into law.

The McCain crusade cannot wait another year. Campaign finance reform is an idea whose time came a long time ago.

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