Keep your fingers crossed

Globe editorial, 12/16/99

any voters will ask what can be accomplished by the handshake planned today between Republican John McCain and Democrat Bill Bradley in New Hampshire. Will it make campaign finance reform a reality, or even a probability?

From one perspective the odds are not good. After all, the handshake four years ago between President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich - the model for today's event - turned out to be a dud. Not only was there no reform; there was not even the commission on reform that was promised. And Clinton and Gingrich were then the two most powerful political leaders in America. McCain and Bradley are only candidates, neither of them the leading candidate for his party's nomination.

Symbolic as it is, the event is worthwhile. First, the unusual harmony on this issue from candidates whose philosophies diverge sharply on other matters demonstrates that campaign reform transcends partisanship. George W. Bush said in this week's debate that the McCain-Feingold reform bill would hurt Republicans by eliminating huge soft-money contributions, and he was right. But the bill would also restrict Democrat-leaning unions by preventing their use of funds from members' dues during the last two months of campaigning.

The leading Democrat, Al Gore, calls Bradley a late arrival to the issue, but Bradley is riding it harder now. It is true that McCain and Bradley engage in some of the activities they deplore, taking contributions and cut-rate jet rides from wealthy influence-seekers. But this only demonstrates how pervasive the corrosion is.

People who write six-figure checks to politicians are not altruists; they are investors who expect a good return. The resistance of McCain and Bradley is to be commended, though it will take more than handshakes to dislodge the system.