FOR ALL THE TALK about curbing political corruption, too little attention has been focused on making the processes of justice not only more sure but much more swift. This is point was illustrated by a press release that crossed our desk the other day. It announced that the Federal Election Commission has begun routine, random audits of the campaign finances of candidates in 10 per cent of the 1976 Senate and House campaigns. The audits are supposed to be completed by April 1978 - after the next campaigns are under way.
This doesn't mean that a corrupt candidate can count on a few years of grace or that his chances of getting caught eventually are only one in 10. Where complaints are filed or something looks suspicious, the wheels of justice can move right along. Last month, for instance, former Rep. Richard A. Tonry of Louisiana was sentenced to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine for campaign-financing offenses committed during his scandal-ridden race for the House last year. In that case, though, the corruption was so pervasive that investigations started before all the returns were in. The more normal, leisurely pace of law enforcement is suggested by the recent federal indictment of former Rep. Edward A. Garmatz (D-Md.) on charges of conspiring with officials of two shipping companies - between 1971 and 1973.
We grant that political corruption cases are usually intricate and hard to make. That is all the more reason to strengthen the agencies charged with policing politics and to avoid piling more burdens on regulatory system that is already strained. Along these lines, we think the Senate acted wisely last month when it shelved the plan for public financing of congressional campaigns and passed a much-truncated bill primarily designed to resolve some problems in the current federal election law.
The most important feature in that bill, sponsored by Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.), would reverse Congress's 1974 action shortening the statue of limitations on campaign-financing crimes from five years to three. This idea may die quietly in the House; few members are likely to be too enthusiastic about extending their own legal vulnerability. But if Congress is serious about cleaning up politics, the change should be approved. While law-enforcement agencies ought to work rapidly, sometimes three years is just not time enough.