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Campaign Reform Roadblocks : After agreeing with the President, Gingrich seems to be stalling

Politicians are forced to dial for dollars because money is the lifeblood of politics, with billions collected and spent each year in the pursuit of office. In a time when campaign finance reform is sorely needed, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is putting up obstacles. His recent proposal to form a bipartisan commission to study the issue until next May would prevent timely progress.

Gingrich also would set an impossibly high hurdle in the form of a two-thirds vote by the commission to send recommendations on to Congress. A simple majority of the panel should prevail, and the sooner the mechanism is in place the better for Americans who worry that their elected officials can be bought and sold.

What’s taking so long? Gingrich and President Clinton agreed during a June meeting in New Hampshire to set up a campaign finance reform commission. They shook on it, an encouraging sign in this bitterly partisan era. Clinton has since asked Gingrich to get on board, but to no avail.

Bipartisanship is needed to change the rules governing how much money a candidate can collect and from whom, as well as how much a candidate can spend. A Senate bill, proposed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), calls for voluntary spending limits and would reward complying candidates with discounted TV and radio broadcast time. This bipartisan bill also would forbid the bundling of contributions to get around rules and ban PACs, if the courts agreed. The legislation merits speedy passage, but that’s unlikely.

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On the House side, Linda Smith (R-Wash.), in concert with a bipartisan coalition, supports banning PACs, eliminating large corporate and union contributions, and limiting overall campaign spending. She’s on the right track.

Democrats are no less to blame than Republicans for the lack of progress. Former House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.)--who subsequently lost his reelection bid--delayed reform last year.

Gingrich complained loud and often about campaign finance rules when his party was out of power. Now, he seems to support the same old political money business.


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