- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 1999

DES MOINES, Iowa When Bill Bradley moved from professional basketball into politics in the 1970s, he quickly honed an ability to raise campaign contributions that was every bit as effective as his jump shot.
By 1989, when Mr. Bradley mounted the final campaign of his Senate career, he had become so good at fund raising among wealthy donors that he collected a then-unheard-of sum of $700,000 at a single Hollywood party given by Disney CEO Michael Eisner.
Ten years later, Mr. Bradley is making campaign finance reform a centerpiece of his 2000 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination because he thinks special interest money is, as he puts it, “eating away at the fabric of democracy.”
Yet Mr. Bradley contends that while raising large campaign donations has compromised the integrity of many politicians, it never has affected his own judgment. He insists that his wealthy contributors were motivated by friendship, not by a desire to gain advantage in Washington.
“In my case … I’ve never felt any compromise or potential compromise,” he said in an interview. “My contributors say they are doing it because they believe in me.”
To be sure, Mr. Bradley has cultivated a maverick reputation that sometimes puts him at odds with the interests of his contributors. But critics say the former New Jersey senator is deceiving himself by believing he has never been compromised in seeking contributions from business executives whose profits depend on Senate legislation.
“Bradley can deny the reality of being compromised all he wants,” said Ellen S. Miller, executive director of Public Campaign, a nonpartisan group seeking campaign finance reform. “But from the public perception, every candidate is subject to the same corrupt influences. Appearance or reality it doesn’t matter to the American people.”
Mr. Bradley’s views on campaign finance reform will be on display today when he and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain stage an unusual joint appearance in Claremont, N.H., to advocate an end to the funding of presidential contests with unrestricted “soft money” contributions from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. Soft money is the unlimited donations that don’t go directly to the candidate, thus are not subject to the $1,000-a-year limit set by federal election laws.
The two will agree that, if nominated, neither will accept soft money contributions in the general election.
Mr. McCain acknowledges that he’s been tainted by the system he seeks to change. In the late 1980s, he was implicated in the Keating Five scandal one of five senators who took soft money contributions from California S&L; owner Charles Keating, who was seeking government favoritism.
Mr. Bradley has never sought soft money contributions for himself. Instead, his strength has been his ability to persuade Hollywood moguls, Wall Street bankers and sports stars to package many checks of $1,000 each from their friends until they have amassed large amounts of money. Mr. Eisner’s party for Mr. Bradley in 1989 was early evidence of the success of this technique known as “bundling.”
“It didn’t make me feel compromised,” Mr. Bradley said, referring to the Eisner party. “It didn’t bother me at all.”
Under his proposal for campaign finance reform, Mr. Bradley said, he would effectively eliminate this system by replacing privately financed congressional campaigns with a system of partial public funding similar to what now exists in the presidential contests.
Instead of collecting checks of up to $1,000, Mr. Bradley would supply candidates with $2 in public funds for every $1 they raise in private contributions of $250 or less.
Mr. Bradley said he would offer free TV time to candidates who agree to abide by a specific spending limit. He would provide for same-day voter registration and require every employer to give their employees at least two hours off on Election Day to vote.
He acknowledged his campaign finance plan doesn’t solve every problem. For example, he said he can’t figure a way to constitutionally limit independent campaign advertising by groups unrelated to the candidate. “If somebody could tell me how to solve it, I would do it,” he said.
Even if Mr. McCain and he are not nominated, Mr. Bradley suggested their pledge to jointly eliminate soft money could influence future discussions of this issue. No two candidates of opposite parties have ever made such a pledge.
“I think it will remind people of what could have been,” said Mr. Bradley, who has predicted that soft money could total nearly $750 million in 2000. “Without a ban on soft money, we are going to have an orgy that will make 1996 look pretty tame, and it was pretty raw.”

Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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