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There is an overriding and pesky truth involved in the discussion of campaign finance reform: It's easy to be noble supporting limits in fundraising when the money isn't flowing in. For the Democratic National Committee, having President Clinton in office has meant a windfall in contributions, money that's hard to turn down on reasons of principle. And if principle is at the heart of this reform, the initiative taken by President Clinton on the issue amounts only to rhetoric.

According to Common Cause, a group that keeps tabs on who pays for what in American elections, Democrats have raised $40.5 million in "soft money" since President Clinton was inaugurated. ("Soft money" is the sort of campaign contribution that slips through the loopholes of campaign finance laws, evading certain limitations on donations to candidates.) In an earlier day, when President Bush occupied the White House and Bill Clinton wanted to supplant him, the Arkansas governor made campaign promises to dilute the power of special interests in the election process. Now, as the well-to-do thrust money toward him and his party, President Clinton sidesteps the reform question by insisting he is doing only what the law allows.

Doing what the law allows is an admirable thing, of course, but the president tries to have it both ways where campaign finance reform is involved ... he wants to talk the talk without walking the walk, a recurring mannerism of his tenure in office. Like a temperance advocate who isn't above taking a nip, President Clinton can't preach the gospel of reform while indulging in the practices he decries.