Political process can score '10' if Senate passes campaign bill

Posted: Friday, February 15, 2002

If you've been following the Olympics, you've been following the controversy surrounding the pairs skating competition.

It's a controversy that's easy to put your arms around and get outraged about. The Russian skaters were awarded the gold medal despite an obvious error. The Canadians, who performed a nearly flawless routine, had to settle for the silver. The French figure skating judge, at the center of the scandal, is said to have been ''manipulated'' into voting for the Russians.

It's too bad all controversies don't boil down so simply.

All the gold, glory and scandal surrounding the Olympics in Salt Lake City may have shrouded a historic -- and contentious -- drama on Capitol Hill.

Following a 16-hour marathon session, the U.S. House of Representatives passed what has been called "the most sweeping overhaul of campaign spending rules in a generation" at 2:30 a.m. Thursday. The vote was 240-189. Alaska's lone congressman, Don Young, voted against the legislation.

Campaign finance reform is not an issue that boils down as simply as the Salt Lake City skating controversy. It's not nearly so easy to wrap your arms around, but it is an issue that people should care about.

The measure now moves to the Senate.

Alaskans need to encourage Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski to be on the "yes" side of this vote. The reason is best summed up by Rep. Bernard Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, who said: "The current campaign finance system is a disaster, and it's an embarrassment to American democracy."

While not perfect, the legislation passed by the House does curtail the power of monied special interests against the not-so-rich "the people."

The bill bans unlimited "soft money" donations that unions, corporations and individuals make to political parties.

At the heart of the issue is who contributes to the political process, how much they contribute and how much those contributions influence the politicians in power.

There's wide disagreement over how big a role big money plays in the political process. The current Enron scandal provides a good example of both sides of the debate.

Some analysts say the collapse of Enron helped pass the legislation; they connect the political contributions with fostering an atmosphere of regulatory laxity that ultimately led to the company's bankruptcy. Others, however, note Enron would have collapsed even if its executives had not given a penny, and that when Enron needed help from the politicians it didn't get it.

The reality of politics, however, is perception. And the perception is that money is power and those big political donations make a big difference.

Said Rep. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., in the New York Times: "With special interests giving millions of dollars to the political parties, you'll never convince me it doesn't affect legislation."

You also will never convince millions of Americans who don't have millions of dollars to give to politicians.

Flashback to the Salt Lake City skating controversy for a moment. ''This sport is in danger of losing credibility,'' Canadian delegation chief Sally Rehorick, a skating judge for 25 years, told The Associated Press. ''It's too beautiful a sport for this to happen.''

Virtually the same could be said of campaign finance reform and the democratic political process.

Without meaningful campaign finance reform, politicians and the political process are in danger of losing their credibility. The United States has too great a system of government for this to happen.

The House took a bold step Thursday morning. Not a perfect 10, but, nevertheless, a bipartisan effort that deserves to be supported by the Senate and President George W. Bush.

Now, if citizens could only get as enthusiastic about pushing for the legislation to pass the Senate as they are about skating in Salt Lake City, it could be an almost perfect 10 for the political process.

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