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Campaign Reform Farce
April 9, 2002
The New York Times

Only the most confirmed cynic would have imagined that after passing a historic campaign reform bill last month, Congress would start undoing its achievement right away. Yet that is exactly what is happening this week in Washington. The House plans to vote on Wednesday on a measure that would weaken the requirement that secret campaign slush funds disclose their donors. The House speaker, Dennis Hastert, has allowed the measure to be attached to a "taxpayers' bill of rights," making it harder for lawmakers to turn it down. Nevertheless, they must prevent this travesty of a bill from passing.

The new bill would not affect the historic campaign reform bill that President Bush signed into law last month. It would dilute a separate law passed two years ago to require the disclosure of the names of donors to political organizations exempt from paying taxes under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. That law affected all kinds of political activities, not just broadcast ads, at any time during the year, not just before an election.

Full and complete disclosure of who gives how much to political campaigns is a concept embraced by everyone from President Bush and Senator John McCain to many legislative enemies of campaign finance reform. The new measure's sponsors - led by Representative Bill Thomas of California, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee - say they are only trying to make things simpler for nonprofit groups by exempting them from cumbersome federal disclosure requirements if they have already filed with state or local governments. But since state and local rules are exceedingly lax, the effect would be to open a huge loophole. The unlimited campaign contributions known as soft money, banned under the campaign reform that was passed last month, would suddenly migrate secretly into supposedly independent organizations.

The new measure is to come up under a special procedure that would keep opponents from severing Mr. Thomas's proposal from the popular taxpayers' rights bill. Lawmakers' first order of business should be to overturn the "rule" and detach the campaign bill from the taxpayers' bill of rights, then defeat it. Failing that, they should vote down the entire bill, as politically difficult as such a step might be in an election year.

To let this new and arrogant assault on campaign disclosure be passed by the House now, after members worked so hard and heroically to support reform, would be a farce.

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