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Monday, July 27, 1998; Page A22

opinion
THE HOUSE is scheduled this week to resume the bizarre debate in which the leadership for two months has tried and failed to kill campaign finance reform, only to come back a week later and try again. The charade is the reverse of the normal legislative process; it mocks the underlying bill. It is long past time to allow the vote the leadership has fought to prevent. Majority Leader Richard Armey says he will allow it -- next week, after the Senate is safely out of town for the August recess. Then House leaders will only have to stall the bill another month until adjournment. They can stall anything for a month. That's the plan.

They seek to kill the bill by inserting poison pills -- amendments, many of which have nothing to do with campaign finance, whose inclusion would force the bill's supporters to vote no. Awaiting possible votes today are a couple that would vitiate the so-called motor-voter registration act of several years ago, an effort to simplify voter registration that many Republicans resisted as likely to benefit mainly Democrats and as an invitation to fraud. Among other things, both are written in such a way that they would likely weaken nondiscrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

Another amendment would require House candidates to raise at least half their funds from within their districts. The notion is that money raised closer to home would be cleaner, but it isn't clear the idea could pass constitutional muster, and members from lower-income districts particularly oppose it. Other such strictures on congressional fund-raising were dropped from the bill long ago for lack of votes, and in favor of concentrating on the single greatest contaminant, soft money, which the bill would ban. They need someday to come back to the congressional system, but this amendment is a spoiler.

The fund-raising excesses of the last campaign almost all had to do with soft money. Both presidential campaign organizations slipped the limits in existing law by raising and spending in the name of the national parties funds they were forbidden to raise and spend themselves. The result was the same; only the labels were different. The bill would forbid the use of the fiction in the future. The president favors the measure; no matter that the practices it would bar are ones that he himself perfected. The Republicans meanwhile mainly oppose the bill, even though they have spent almost two years denouncing him for precisely what it would prevent. He seeks redemption; they like the bucks.

There are, however, majorities in both houses -- enough Republicans plus most Democrats -- in favor of at least the basic outline of the bill. It is those majorities that the leaders of both houses have spent the year seeking to squelch. In the end, the leaders probably can prevent a bill, but at least let there be a vote in the House, as there was in the Senate. Then we'll see if the leaders can continue to hold out.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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