The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday May 31st

Badge of Cowardice

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate began what is expected to be a two-week debate on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform measure.

Conventional wisdom holds that the Democrats support "government for the people" and Republicans are "bought and sold" by corporations. So it would logically follow that Democrats would support any measure that would help take the corrupt influence of money out of politics.

It's time for the Dems to put up or shut up. And I think that they will show their true colors and bail on campaign finance reform.

In the past, it was easy for the Democratic Party to wear the badge of reformer. The Republicans have long been wary of campaign finance restrictions violating free speech. When they controlled Congress during much of the 1990s, it was a given that any measure such as McCain-Feingold would die in the Senate.

So the Democrats backed it because it was popular with voters and they wanted to paint themselves as "pro-reformers."

But the scene has changed in Washington. The Senate is evenly split -- and supporters of McCain-Feingold have enough votes to keep a filibuster at bay. So there will be a vote. And the stakes are high.

After the flood of cash during last year's political races, many Americans have grown fed up with the corrupt influence of money in government. Voters want campaign reform.

But the Democrats have become addicted to "soft money" -- a key villain in the McCain-Feingold measure. Large donations to the party from organized labor, teachers unions and Hollywood millionaires helped pay for issue ads crucial to the wins of Debbie Stabenow in Michigan and Jean Carnahan in Missouri. The Democrats are afraid to kill their major cash cow.

The Republicans are much more adept at raising "hard money" --direct donations to candidates, capped at $1,000 per donator.

If soft money were curbed, the Republicans would be at an immediate fund-raising advantage, and it would take time for the Democrats to build up a strong base of individual fund-raising support.

So during the next two weeks, there will be a lot of grandstanding on both sides of the aisle. But reform will still be just a glimmer in the eye of Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Money and politics will continue to be close bedfellows -- and the Democrats can no longer try and pretend like they want it any other way.

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