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Waiting for the Next Watergate


Reformers in Washington are looking for a few good scandals.

Watergate led to the biggest overhaul of campaign finance law in the past century. Outrage over donors sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom and Enron influence peddling helped spur the 2002 McCain-Feingold overhaul. And the Jack Abramoff affair got Congress to act quickly on lobbying and ethics reform.

But the explosion of campaign spending, super PACs and political nonprofits hasn’t been enough for campaign finance watchdogs to get momentum on Capitol Hill. They are brimming with ambitious proposals to curtail the influence of money in politics, end the role of corporations in the political process, force more disclosure on freewheeling outside groups and rein in the activities of Beltway lobbyists.

What they’re missing: a messy scandal to gin up public outrage and embarrass Congress into acting.

“It always takes a scandal in order to get Congress to reform itself,” said former Rep. Marty Meehan — a Massachusetts Democrat and a veteran of the 2002 campaign finance fight.