Truth be told, Congress isn't qualified to pass campaign reform legislation. Obviously, its members all have a monumental conflict of interest, which is that they rely on things allowed under current law to help keep them in office.
That's why the bill that passed the House last week, which would ban so-called "soft money" donations to political parties, isn't likely to ever reach the president's desk for a signature. If something does pass both houses, it likely will be fraught with giant loopholes, as is another bill being pushed by various freshman legislators.But Congress is the only law-making body the federal government has. The Constitution doesn't allow for some other independent group to pass rules on political matters. Perhaps the easiest, and most effective, type of reform would be one that simply requires full and complete public disclosure of every penny obtained and expended in a campaign. That would include identifying the people behind soft-money donations and detailing what political parties do with that money. These donations would be posted immediately on the Internet for all, including the candidate's opposition, to see.
No loopholes. No exceptions. Open scrutiny would act as its own governor. Donations would be questioned on the basis of whether they gave certain interests or individuals undo influence over a candidate. That kind of influence exists today, no matter what politicians say. Why not be honest and make everything public?
No one has yet to come up with a different reform bill that is free of problems - at least not one with a chance of passing.
The bill that passed last week, co-sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., bans soft-money contributions. But it also regulates so-called "issue ads" on television and radio. These ads often appear to be concerned with an issue, when in reality they are backhanded attempts at supporting a particular candidate.
But political speech is an important freedom guaranteed in the Constitution. The ads may be deceptive, but courts are likely to strike down any attempt at regulating a person's right to speak publicly, as well they should.
No attempt at reform is worth trampling on fundamental constitutional rights. By the same token, no reform proposal would be as effective or palatable as one that merely requires full disclosure and accountability. Unfortunately, even that is likely asking too much of a political body that has too much stake in this issue.