INSIDE THE BELTWAY: In their zeal to outlaw 'soft-money,' NY's Senate hopefuls have silenced some important voices

It's a good thing the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) announced last week that it would not abide by the soft-money treaty struck by first lady Hillary Clinton and New York congressman Rick Lazio.

It's a good thing the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) announced last week that it would not abide by the soft-money treaty struck by first lady Hillary Clinton and New York congressman Rick Lazio.

It's a good thing the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) announced last week that it would not abide by the soft-money treaty struck by first lady Hillary Clinton and New York congressman Rick Lazio.

I hope other third-party groups follow. Under the current system, groups like NARAL on the left and the National Right to Life Committee on the right have every right to agitate for or against a candidate. The Clinton-Lazio pact dangerously infringes on these groups' rights to free speech.

It is the soft-money spending by the parties that poses a real threat to the system and violates the true spirit of campaign finance reform laws. Democratic and Republican parties are flooding the airwaves with so-called 'issue advertisements' from the presidential to the House level.

Even by generous standards, there is no way to construe these ads as independent of the candidates they are supporting, or even as being about the issues. The ads end with tag lines like 'call so-and-so and tell them to tell the truth,' instead of 'phone your representative and ask them to oppose abortion rights.'

Indeed, the whole impetus for the Clinton-Lazio agreement was the Long Island congressman's desire to question the first lady's character and trustworthiness. Lagging in the polls and harboring a serious problem in upstate New York, Lazio is rapidly learning that tactic isn't working.

But Lazio did make a shrewd tactical move, as new fund-raising figures show. He has raked in more than triple the amount Mrs. Clinton has over the last month, meaning he has a daunting hard-money advantage over the first lady for the final stretch.

But Lazio's financial advantage will just make it easier for Clinton's allies to violate the ban. Watch for Democrats to attempt something they did in the 1998 race to re-elect campaign finance reform champion Russ Feingold, who was forced to live up to his word and reject soft-money advertising. But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee weighed in with a little-noticed ad campaign funded by hard money to boost the endangered Feingold.

The Clinton-Lazio agreement is already beginning to unravel, with reports that Lazio benefitted from soft money transfers to the state party and will rake in the nefarious substance at an upcoming fundraiser.

Let's hope it does unravel, particularly with the news that while Lazio supports the abortion-inducing drug RU-486, he does not want Medicaid to cover it. Regardless of where one stands on abortion rights, NARAL should be allowed to tell voters where Lazio does.

- Rachel Van Dongen is a senior staff writer at Roll Call in Washington, DC.



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