Of the missionaries who went to Hawaii in search of lost souls and once on the islands found immense personal wealth for themselves, James Michener observed they "came to do good and did very well indeed." There is no evidence that Michener ever met Ralph Reed.
Reed, formerly the top gun at the Christian Coalition, most of his critics concede, entered politics to improve the moral life of the nation. He was an important campaign adviser to George W. Bush's presidential campaign. Thanks to The Washington Post, we know that, barely two weeks before the 2000 presidential election, in a $380,000 business pitch to help Enron deregulate the electricity industry, Reed wrote, "In public policy, it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard -- and by whom."
Sen. John McCain does not contradict what Reed wrote to Enron. "How do you get heard in Washington, D.C.?" he asks. "The way you get heard is through the use of money. Money buys access."
The Arizona senator, who has spent the past decade leading an uphill fight in Congress to drive Big Money from Washington and American politics, has no love for the choirboy-looking Reed, whose brass-knuckle tactics against McCain in behalf of Bush may have made the difference in the slash-and-burn South Carolina primary.
McCain chuckles at the giant sucking sound in Reed's appeal to Enron ("We are a loyal member of your team and are prepared to do whatever fits your strategic plan.")
But what Reed was selling hardest was his clout with the "faith community" and "religious leaders," whom he could transform into champions of "market-oriented solutions."
Reed, who maintained an economic relationship with Enron until October, may have come to do good, but he, too, has done very, very well.
There is an iron law of legislative politics: If you have the votes, you want to vote right now. If you do not have the votes, you use every delaying tactic to put off that vote. As of now, McCain and his fellow rebels have the votes to effectively ban the unregulated six- and seven-figure "soft money" contributions from corporations, wealthy individuals and labor unions.
The defenders of the status quo are stalling. But the stench from the Enron scandal has turned even the cynical into limited "reformers" reluctant to be publicly identified as part of a Senate filibuster to kill the basic campaign reform bill that has now passed House and Senate.
The opponents of the reform bill sponsored by Reps. Chris Shays and Marty Meehan and Sens. Russ Feingold and McCain have reached the point of intellectual desperation, where they are reduced to making contradictory arguments to stop the bill.
First, opponents insisted that campaign finance reform was only an incumbents' protection bill that would hurt challengers. But Speaker Denny Hastert told a closed Republican House caucus the bill was nothing less than "Armageddon," which would, by banishing soft money, rob the GOP of its House majority.
Opponents regularly have equated soft money with free speech. But speech does not equal money. (Sadly, in too many campaigns, money is a helluva lot more important than speech.) So abandoning any pretense of logical consistency, opponents in the House pushed amendments that would have abolished soft money sooner and more radically than the reform bill does, in part to provide themselves with "political cover " as having supported reform.
Opponents insisted that soft money was for "party-building," and Lord knows the country needs stronger, more vibrant political parties. But that argument collapsed on two realities: You cannot build a political party on corrupt money, and less than 10 percent of the soft money was going to party activities -- it was paying for TV spots for candidates.
The opponents make one fatal mistake by their stalling. You can be sure, given the swollen rivers of money and the narcotic dependence upon it in Washington politics today, that it's only a short time before we confront another Marc Rich pardon, or another Enron, or several somebody elses who originally "came to do good."
Mark Shields is a commentator on PBS' "The News Hour With Jim Lehrer" and on CNN's "Capital Gang."
Copyright 2002 by Creators Syndicate