Supreme Court and the FEC could be much tougher in policing our systemOne election year, political action committees or PACs are the villains. Four years later, "soft money" campaign slush funds are the enemies. This year's culprits are the so-called 527s - groups that use and perhaps abuse that section of the federal election code.

In every national election, large sums of money flood in like sea water through gaping cracks in an old-fashioned wooden ship. Every time a leak is patched, a new one begins gushing cash into our political vessel, which rides lower and lower in the water with each passing year.

In most other Western democracies, elections are far less dominated by money. Campaign seasons are kept to a tighter schedule, with much more effective limits placed on private donations and influence. It's not that other countries have figured out a perfect system for elections and we haven't, rather it's a matter of our system being more systematically warped by ill-controlled special-interest spending.

One reason our system isn't working is the Federal Election Commission. The FEC's membership is too weak-willed and politically involved to take strong and responsible action when 527 groups and others distort the intent of laws. Ultimately, it is up to Congress and the president to appoint and confirm tough reformers, and to make certain they have the resources to rigorously enforce the laws.

Another reason for this mess is a Supreme Court that has lost its way on these issues. Just as someone's freedom of speech stops when it comes to shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, so too should it be limited when vast amounts of money are used to bend the outcome of elections. Although it has upheld modest election reforms, the court - and the U.S. Justice Department - have been far too lax in stepping in to preserve the sanctity of the election process.

This is a nonpartisan issue and problem. It is time for all Americans to demand serious election reform and enforcement.


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