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McCain's Next Brave Act

Various measures to curb the influence of campaign contributions in Washington will soon be taken up in the Senate, with big stakes for American democracy.

Voter beware: Many bills and amendments will try to compromise on a measure proposed by Republican John McCain and Democrat Russ Feingold that will do the job. How much can their bill be compromised and still halt the runaway campaign-finance train?

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One leading compromiser, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska, has a bill that would allow an increase in "hard money" contributions while capping "soft money" contributions at $60,000 to national political parties. It may have President Bush's backing.

But that bill only legitimizes soft money (the unlimited amounts that can go to parties) and lacks teeth to curb individual soft-money contributions. Senators McCain and Feingold should oppose this loophole, but perhaps bend on raising the limit on "hard" money (the amounts individuals can give directly to candidates).

McCain is still a political force to be reckoned with. One pollster said he is perceived as "the last honest man in America." Mr. Bush would be wise to work with him.

McCain's opponents might cite constitutional problems with his bill, but the Supreme Court has noted that, while campaign contributions are akin to the idea of free speech, money used to influence an election can be limited in the interest of getting rid of "corruption and appearance of corruption."

Whatever bill emerges, it must help end the public's cynicism over who really owns democracy.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor