Greasy palms


THE LATEST campaign finance report from the Federal Election Commission simply reaffirms the steady and deeply disturbing trend toward electoral domination by political action committees.

According to the FEC, congressional candidates have received a total of $93.7 million from PACs during the first 18 months of the 1989-90 election cycle. That represents a 320 percent increase over the same 18-month period just four years ago.

As disturbing as the amount of money -- and its accompanying political influence -- is the fact that 12 times as much PAC money went to incumbents as to challengers. Moreover, the $93.7 million in PAC money represents one-third of the $279 million that congressional candidates will raise and spend this year.

The two campaign finance reform bills that have passed one chamber or the other are certainly welcome steps toward lessening the impact of middlemen -- PACs and other special interests -- in the elections process. Of the two, the Senate bill is clearly superior.

It would establish much-needed spending limits in conjunction with partial public funding of congressional campaigns. It would also ban the acceptance of honorariums, which the House has already done by rule. To curb the influence of PACs, the Senate bill takes a two-tier approach: an outright ban on PAC contributions or, if that were found unconstitutional, an aggregate limit -- equal to 20 percent of the spending limit -- on all PAC giving.

The matter of campaign finance reform should be of concern to every member of Congress. A recent New York Times-CBS News poll found that 42 percent of Americans surveyed believed at least half or more of the members of Congress are financially corrupt.

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