Campaign Finance Can Be Reformed

The scandal of campaign finance is beginning to erode the very foundations of democratic life in America. The buying and selling of access and influence in Washington is generating a deep disillusionment among individual voters. Feeling powerless in the face of enormous special interest money, they are boycotting elections in ever-greater numbers. Less than half the electorate bothered to vote in the latest Presidential election.

It is true that the campaign finance problem is extremely complex, made worse by an unfortunate 1976 Supreme Court decision that equated free spending with free speech. By wrapping campaign spending in the Constitution's First Amendment, the court made any effort at reform that much more difficult. Ideally, a bipartisan pact between the Democratic and Republican National Committees that would cap spending could solve the problem. But the normal political process is clearly not about to deliver such a solution. Campaign finance reform must be taken out of the hands of politicians and placed within a bipartisan commission. Run-away campaign spending is no less a national problem than Social Security and the closing of military bases, both of which were addressed by bipartisan commissions. Not that there is any shortage of suggestions on how to curb campaign spending. BUSINESS WEEK provides a list of what is possible without changing the Constitution or providing public finance.

In the meantime, President Clinton should avoid the unseemly and hypocritical posture of attending fancy million dollar fund-raising dinners while lecturing Congress on overhauling campaign finance laws. He should be using the bully pulpit of his office to take the lead in reforming campaign finance. We have every right to expect a little moral leadership from the President of the United States, not just another politician.